Snow polo event wins its turf war | AspenTimes.com

Snow polo event wins its turf war

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

This year’s World Snow Polo Championships will take place at Wagner Park, Aspen’s premier downtown turf, the city’s Special Events Committee agreed Thursday.

Organizers of the two-day event had hoped to secure the use of Wagner Park for last year’s tournament, but the city, covering its grasses, said “no way.”

Fearing the horses would damage the sod beneath the snow and leave a springtime mess at Wagner Park just in time for the annual Food and Wine Magazine Classic, the City Council told organizers they’d have to make do with Rio Grande Park a year ago.

The Rio Grande grass survived the ordeal. In fact, spectators caused more damage than the horses, according to Tom Rubel, parks operations superintendent.

“The horses caused minimal damage,” he said.

The Special Events Committee, made up of representatives of various city departments, including parking, police, parks and environmental health, turned to Rubel yesterday to make the call. He gave the event the thumbs up at Wagner Park.

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Barry Stout, president of the Roaring Fork Polo Club and director of the event, was anxious to bring the event to the high-profile Wagner Park, which borders the downtown pedestrian mall and is likely to draw more spectators.

“It just makes for, I believe, a better event for the town,” he said.

Rio Grande Park, south of the downtown core, is a less-visible venue.

Don Sheeley, a member of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors, urged the city to embrace the polo tourney, noting the resort’s current push to foster special events.

“It was a great event,” said Sheeley, who attended both days of the December tournament last year at Rio Grande Park. “I think this is something we need to continue.”

The event also raised $3,500 last year for the Aspen Sister Cities program, said Sheeley, its president. The money went to scholarships for local youths to visit the resort’s Sister Cities around the world, he said.

In agreeing to the use of Wagner Park this year, the committee directed Stout to work with Rubel to make sure the turf is adequately protected during the event.

Rubel predicted the parks department would require some damage deposit, but not the onerous $25,000 letter of credit the city demanded last year just in case the sod at Rio Grande Park incurred substantial damage.

Last year, spectators stood on the kind of matting that is placed over grass in the summertime to protect sod from heavy foot traffic. That approach compacted the snow and ice formed, cutting off air to the sod and causing damage, Rubel said.

For this year’s event at Wagner Park, Rubel said he will require the spectator areas to be covered with raised flooring of the type used for a dance at Wagner last winter. It worked well, he said.

The corral area at the park may suffer the most damage, Rubel said. Last year, the horses were corralled in a parking lot across the street from Rio Grande Park.

“If something happens to the field, I’ll fix it,” Stout said.

Since the city closes Wagner Park each spring anyway, it will be easier to repair any damage there than at Rio Grande Park, Rubel added.

Last year, both the Special Events Committee and the city manager turned down Stout’s request to stage the tournament at Wagner Park. He then appealed to the council, which approved the event but told Stout he’d have to settle for Rio Grande Park.

This year, council action won’t be necessary.

Stout said he is again planning four teams of three players each for the tournament, to be held Dec. 21-22.

“I really believe it’s a great event for Aspen. It’s the only snow polo event in the country, and it gets a lot of press around the world,” he said.

The event is free to spectators, though tickets are sold for admission to a VIP tent. Temporary fencing separates the polo field from spectators.

In past years, the tournament was held at T-Lazy-7 Ranch, the city’s Cozy Point Ranch and at Aspen Valley Ranch, before Stout brought it into town with last year’s event at Rio Grande Park.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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