Karissa Cook had never heard of snow volleyball when she first got an email from the national federation looking for players to participate in a European tour event in Moscow this winter.
Now Cook is in Austria with teammates Emily Hartong, Katie Spieler and Alexandra Wheeler for the first-ever stop on the Snow Volleyball World Tour. The American women were unbeaten through pool play and waiting for a quarterfinal matchup on Saturday against the winner of a playoff between South Africa and Lithuania. Cook, Hartong and Spieler all played collegiately at the University of Hawaii.
“When we got the second email, we jumped right on it. It was a no-brainer for us,” Cook said today in a telephone interview from Wagrain-Kleinarl. “As long as USA Volleyball doesn’t tell us no, we’re going to keep showing up.”
Traditional indoor volleyball was invented in Western Massachusetts in the late 19th Century and has been a part of the Olympics since 1964. The two-player beach version grew up in Southern California and was added to the Summer Games in 1996.
Snow volleyball has bounced around Europe for a decade, mostly as a diversion for ski resort guests. But after a demonstration at the Pyeongchang Games last year, the sport’s international governing body is hoping to use the continental circuit as a base for a world tour that would give the sport the worldwide popularity it needs to be added to the Olympics.
If it succeeds, volleyball would be the first sport that is included in both the Summer and Winter Games.
Cook wasn’t so sure after a Russian visit that lasted about 48 hours.
Now she’s on board.
“After seeing today, I have a little bit more of a glimpse of what it could be. I think it would be a pretty cool,” said Cook, who played indoor volleyball for Stanford and then was the runner-up at the Pairs (beach) National Championships for the University of Hawaii.
“It’s unlike any other sport I’ve played,” she said. “To have played so much volleyball and to still be surprised by a game like this and to have a really good time out there, it really has something unique to offer.”
The Wagrain event, the first of three World Tour stops planned for this year, features teams from the usual Alpine nations associated with snow sports but also volleyball hotbeds like the U.S., Brazil and Russia. Along with a team from Japan, there are entries from South Africa and Cameroon, meaning five continents are represented.
The American men — Chris Vaughan, Eric Zaun, Travis Mewhirter and Chase Frishman — are also unbeaten through pool play. Although Cook’s quartet has never lost a match, she said it’s hard to consider themselves the favorite in a sport they are still learning.
“I don’t think we came into snow volleyball with any expectations but getting to experience something new,” she said. “The matches we’ve played are really the only exposure to the game we’ve had. We have such a beginners’ mindset out there that makes it so fun, but it limits our ability to consider ourselves elite.”