For the second time in two years, UW-Madison cancelled classes for a snow day. And for the second year in a row, thousands of UW students trudged up Bascom Hill carrying food trays full of snow, flags, sling-shots, hockey masks and wearing any sort of protective gear they can get their hands on. It’s the Southeast versus Lakeshore dorms in an all out snowball fight. However, after covering two of these fights, I can say it is more like a testosterone fueled rugby match that happens to involve copious amounts of snow.
Every five minutes or so, one side blows their vuvuzela and shouts of “Charge!” quickly ripple through the crowd. Hundreds of people then run at each other, hurling ice and snow and tackling whoever they come across.
Being in the middle of the whole thing is half terrifying, half fun — the terrifying part being that I’m carrying all my equipment (kind of like carrying my baby through a war zone.) Worrying about camera settings pretty much goes out the window, because if I stop moving or look down I’m going to be hit by snow or tackled…or both.
I always like covering this stuff because shooting becomes instinct. Composing an image happens in a split second and this challenges me to think fast about the essentials in an image. I also try to keep myself from simply shooting bursts, mainly because the blackout time is so distracting it’s hard to keep track of the action (I shot around 160 frames in an hour).
I’m still not entirely clear how the winner of the fight is decided. Both sides carry symbolic flags of their respective dorms — generally during the fight both flags are captured with one side proclaiming themselves the winners. Either way, the event is a blast for the students and the media. The students get to live out their testosterone wet dreams of war, and the media gets to talk about something other than Joe Schmoe shoveling his driveway after the blizzard.