Champagne, Caviar, luxury cars, private jets, and exciting polo action are just a few of the sights you may experience at snow polo tournaments. These events can be found all over the world today, from the ski resorts of Europe to China, the United States, Canada, and beyond. Synonymous with the glamour and thrilling on-field excitement, snow polo is an experiment gone right, the result of which attracts players, spectators, and sponsors from around the world. This twist to the wonderful game has certainly struck a chord with polo fans.
Snow polo evolved from traditional grass polo but is played on a smaller surface area when compared to its forebearer. Under the International Polo Federation rules, the playing surface must be approximately 80 x 200 yards. This smaller surface area is often due to the high altitudes of the tournament destinations, and the demanding nature of the game. The field size, however, is subject to change depending on snowpack and weather conditions.
The sport relies on perfect temperature and snow conditions to create a surface capable of hosting a fast-paced match. The game requires a base of hard-packed snow and cold temperatures, though not too cold to chase the spectators away! There is a fine balance: too much powder and the horses' hooves will sink through, creating holes for the ball to sit in; too much ice and the ponies and players won’t have enough grip to be able to play a fast match.
The equipment players and ponies use must also be adapted. The ball is larger than those used on the grass and is orange to increase visibility on the snow. In St. Moritz, the snow polo balls are unique because they’re rigid, smooth-sided, and air-filled. Players often need some time to get accustomed to the different feel that the snowy surface and balls create.
Ponies need much less time to acclimatize to the surface than their human counterparts. They’re outfitted with specially shaped shoes that have an insert to prevent snow from gathering in their hooves. Most importantly, their shoes are fitted with studs to increase grip, allowing players to run at speed as they normally would on grass.
Snow polo tournaments are unique in that teams can be comprised of either 3 or 4 players. This decision is made by the host tournament committee and is often dependent on the size of the playing surface. The goal is always to maximize space for players to allow for the most exciting match possible. Both Kitzbuhel, Austria, and Aspen, Colorado’s tournaments are played with 3-person teams while St. Moritz’s Snow Polo World Cup features 4-player teams.
Aspen, Colorado is home to the only official snow polo tournament in North America. The St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship attracts top-level sponsors such as Richard Mille, Lugano Diamonds, NetJets, and Edmiston Yachts as well as celebrity spectators such as Kate Hudson, Rebel Wilson, Mariah Carey, and Anna Kendrick. This year’s White Hot party was hosted at the prestigious W Hotel in Aspen and VIP tickets included bottomless champagne and Beverly Hills caviar, among other exclusive benefits.
Arguably, the world’s best-known tournament, the Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz, was where it all began in 1985. Held on a frozen lake in the town of St. Moritz, the tournament is the only ‘high goal’ polo tournament played on ice. The epitome of glamour, VIP tickets to the event start at 550 Swiss Francs and features everything from meals by celebrity chefs to unlimited Perrier Jouet Champagne and caviar. The tournament grows each year and has seen as many as 20,000 spectators enjoy the excitement of the game. More than the thrilling sporting action, the after-hours parties also add to the event’s reputation. St. Moritz’s hotels open their doors to everything from fondue nights to black tie galas and all-night player parties where a minimum spend of $2000 is required for access.
St. Moritz is challenging to win due to the high altitude. But the rewards are sweet! Impressive prize money, a coveted Cartier Trophy, and even Cartier watches for the winning team make this event an important fixture on the World Polo Calendar. Over almost 40 years, the tournament has only been canceled twice; once in 2012 due to insufficient ice thickness on the lake, and once in 2021 due to the pandemic.
This year’s edition of the St. Moritz Snow Polo World Cup takes place from the 27th to the 29th of January. A truly global event, competitors will hail from Argentina, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, England, Uruguay, Canada, USA, Germany, and France. Top players who can be spotted taking to the snow include Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Fred Mannix, Nic Roldan, Alejo Taranco, and more. It’s a weekend packed full of polo and parties and is definitely not one to be missed.