When not galloping the green in Bridgehampton, Buenos Aires, or Palm Beach, some of the world's top polo players can be found playing with their, ahem, sticks, in the snow. Snow polo is a modified (and crazier?) version of the sport that takes place on a sideboard-lined, snow-packed field or frozen lake, with larger, lighter, brightly-colored balls and cleat-shod ponies. The first official game was played in St. Moritz 1985, and today world-class matches take place in ritzy winter resorts the world over, including Kitzbuehel, Tianjin, Valcastello, and Chantilly. Aspen has now joined the ranks of the mallet-wielding elite, and Curbed Ski had front-row seats at the first-ever world championship snow polo event last week.
The Piaget World Snow Polo Championship was held December 19 and 20 in Wagner Park, after months of contention. Snow polo has been held in a less fancypants format in Aspen since 2000, usually at Marolt Open Space or Rio Grande Park. Many, including Aspen mayor Steve Skadron, opposed using Wagner Park as a venue, citing concerns over turf damage and potential lack of snow (the sport requires a depth of 18 inches of unpacked white stuff for play).
Aspen Valley Polo Club and local snow polo founder and organizer/Team Piaget Captain Marc Ganzi took on City Council. He eventually obtained approval to hold the Championships, including a swank VIP tent, Jumbotron, and scoreboard, at Wagner Park, with Aspen Skiing Company providing extra snow. The three competing teams- Piaget, St. Regis, and Audi- featured some of the most famous names in polo, including Nacho Figueras (aka "the unbelievably hot guy in the Ralph Lauren ads"/St. Regis brand ambassador and team captain). Despite his prominent role in the event, Figueras still found time to hit the slopes, explaining, "You know, it gets the blood going."
The sold-out charity competition donated $20,000 in VIP ticket sales to Sopris Therapy Services, an equine-assisted rehabilitation program for the disabled, and the Aspen Sister Cities Organization. While civilian spectators shivered in snowfall along the sideboard, the VIP tent rocked antler chandeliers, sheepskin rugs, a DJ, full brunch buffet courtesy of the St. Regis, and two bars, which served up Bloody Mary's and specialty cocktails featuring Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
Amidst the sea of trout pouts, bad Botox, dead animals disguised as outer- and -footwear, iPhone-wielding social media addicts, wildly gesticulating Argentineans, and Ralph Lauren-clad rat dogs lifting their legs on the sheepskin ottomans, were Aspen's players, movers, and shakers. The three matches were exhilarating, human and equine athletes deftly handling the potentially deadly terrain and snowy skies. Despite the number of women openly salivating over Nacho, the unsung stars of the event were the ponies. Muscles rippling, lathered with sweat, these highly-trained horses charged the field, undeterred by waving mallets, shrieking crowds, and the epic pow day taking place mere yards away. Only in Aspen.
-By Laurel Miller
· All Aspen Snow Polo Coverage [Curbed Ski Archives]