World Snow Polo Championship gallops back to Rio Grande for 10th anniversary
Action begins Monday in Carbondale before moving to Rio Grande Park on Tuesday, Wednesday; spectating is free to the public
This week marks the 10th anniversary of snow polo being held in Aspen, with some of the best players in the world heading to Rio Grande Park on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The St. Regis Aspen World Snow Polo Championship is put on by Aspen Valley Polo Club, which was established by valley residents Marc and Melissa Ganzi.
This is the ninth year the tournament will take place at Rio Grande Park; the first year was held at Wagner Park in the middle of downtown Aspen.
In 2013, the Aspen City Council agreed to move snow polo to Rio Grande from Wagner after concerns were raised by some residents about damage to the turf in a park that is heavily used, as well as the privatization of a public space.
Greg Kiner, the polo club’s director of production, said Rio Grande has turned out to be a great venue for the players and the public.
“When I am down there, I can see that people are just loving it, kids are having fun,” he said. “It’s a good time and there is something for everyone here.”
Kiner estimated that last year roughly 150 people watched the tournament on both days.
While the tournament is free and open to the public, it’s a charitable event with proceeds from VIP ticket sales and several sponsors going to the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation, which is the fundraising arm for the hospital, as well as the Calaway-Young Cancer Center at Valley View Hospital.
Kiner said each organization will receive $15,000.
“Traditionally, we’ve never made money off of this event,” he said.
There have been no problems with damage to the grass at Rio Grande for the past several years, which is largely due to the event organizer and the city parks department working together to minimize impacts.
The polo club contracts with Aspen Skiing Co. to make snow and the gun was fired up last week before the surface was packed down.
“While natural snow is natural snow, artificial snow packs different and it gives us the base that we need,” Kiner said.
Event organizers have been graced with cold weather and plenty of snowfall, which allowed them to use far less water from the municipal supply than previous years.
This year there will be six teams playing, including Argentine polo icon Nacho Figueras and his son, Hilario, as well as Melissa Ganzi and her son, Grant Ganzi, albeit on different teams.
“When we first started this, Grant was 14, and now he’s playing against his mother,” Kiner said. “It’s so fun to watch. It really is a generational thing.”
Preliminary matches take place Monday afternoon at the Aspen Valley Polo Club grounds near Carbondale. Tournament play begins at Rio Grande Park on Tuesday at 1:15 p.m., and the final will be played on Wednesday around 1 p.m., with other matches following on both days.
It’s the only snow polo event in North America. The sport was first played on a frozen lake in St. Moritz, Switzerland, created by Swiss hotelier and polo visionary Reto Gaudenzi in 1985 and has been growing in popularity ever since, attracting thousands of spectators and top players from around the world, according to the polo club.
In addition to St. Moritz, it’s played in winter sports communities Aspen; Cortina, Italy; Kitzbuhel, Austria; Courchevel, France; and Tianjin, China. In the United States, snow polo is held exclusively in Aspen.
The Ganzis have been working to bring more exposure to the sport in the Roaring Fork Valley, and the Aspen Valley Polo Club is one of the busiest and fastest growing USPA-sanctioned clubs in the nation.
Marc Ganzi said since he and his wife founded the polo club in 2014, this past summer was the most successful and historic season in club and Rocky Mountain Circuit history.
In the summer, the club hosts weekly grass and arena tournaments, kids polo camps, teaching lessons and several charitable events that benefit local charities.
The club hosted several 20-goal tournaments, including the 119th USPA Silver Cup and USPA North American Cup, which attracted some of the world’s top players and had record crowds every weekend.
This past August, the club hosted Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, who played in the Sentebale ISPS Handa Polo Cup outside of Carbondale, where the Ganzis have an arena and facility.
Sentebale was founded by Prince Harry in 2006 as a response to the needs of vulnerable children in Lesotho.
Of the 10 players listed on the varsity roster ahead of Tuesday’s home game with Summit, two were juniors, seven were sophomores and one was a freshman. It’s a far cry from the class of 10 seniors who last season led the Skiers to a perfect 27-0 mark and the Class 3A state championship.