On a frigid Saturday afternoon in La Fontaine Park, a group of Montreal volleyball players proved that no health or weather restrictions will get in the way of their game this winter.
"It's hard nowadays, you know all the COVID restrictions and everything, we can't play inside," said Anthony Faria, a volleyball newcomer who felt the sting when Quebec suspended all indoor sports and activities in its most recent set of restrictions.
"So you know what we say? We say 'come outside, let's play outside then,'" he said.
Thus, in a quintessential Montreal move, a scheduled indoor volleyball tournament was moved outside in the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough on Saturday, and various players from different recreational adult leagues served and spiked in the snow.
Among them was Ayelén Orcaizaguirre, who moved to Montreal from Argentina just four months ago. Despite it being her first encounter with snow, the lifelong volleyball player said the cold won't cast a chill over her love of the sport.
"It's like –24 C...but I don't care about it," said Orcaizaguirre.
She said the second thing she did after finding an apartment in Montreal was find a volleyball team and a place to practice.
"I try to find the accurate clothes to come out and play anywhere," she said. "I played volleyball all my life and I always love it."
In North America, playing volleyball outdoors in the winter isn't all that common due to cold temperatures. But the organizer of Saturday's snow volleyball tournament said people might need to toughen up, as the winter sport is played in many European countries.
"[Everyone] in Europe is playing snow volleyball right now," said Narcissé Nguyen. "Why in North America, in Canada, are we not playing the sport? It doesn't make sense," he joked, gesturing at the mounds of snow around him.
Nguyen said the outdoor sport is a smart option during COVID-19 as gloves allow the players to avoid touching the ball with their skin and they are also able to maintain a distance of two metres during matches.
Nguyen said he wants to be a pioneer for snow volleyball in North American and help democratize the sport. That's why he's organizing weekly outdoor tournaments for all levels of Montreal's volleyball community every Saturday for the foreseeable future.
"It's a free sport, it's for everyone," he said, adding that he wants to start a snow volleyball league and has already contacted different court managers who have been receptive to the idea.
A college teacher in special education counselling by trade, Nguyen said keeping active in the winter with something like snow volleyball is "so important."
He said both mental and physical health are his priorities.
"I teach it, so now I apply it," Nguyen said.
Nguyen hopes that even long after pandemic restrictions are lifted and people have plenty of choices, they will still opt for snow volleyball, which he said is as niche as skiing.
Due to pandemic restrictions creating a rise in the sport's popularity, Faria — the volleyball newcomer — believes people will cease to care about the weather going forward and snow volleyball will become a staple in Montreal.
"It doesn't matter if it's cold, hot, in a storm... we'll come out and we'll play, we'll give it our all," said Faria.
"I firmly believe this will be the start of something big."