Snow polo championship returns to Aspen this weekend without spectators, grandeur |

Snow polo championship returns to Aspen this weekend without spectators, grandeur

Proceeds will benefit the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation

Marc Ganzi rides for Richard Mille, which beat Flexjet in the final of the 2018 World Snow Polo Championship, 6-5, on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, at Rio Grande Park in Aspen. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)

There was a lot of uncertainty around the event happening at all, but organizer Marc Ganzi thought it extra important the 2020 Aspen World Snow Polo Championship got played.

With the proceeds benefiting the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation and its frontline workers, Ganzi was grateful for the corporate sponsors who stayed on board to make one of Aspen’s premier winter events still happen despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“Given our charitable focus on the hospital, it’s more important than ever that snow polo got done and our corporate sponsors all hung with us. I think we’ll be able to raise at least $25-$40,000 for our frontline workers at the hospital, which I think is totally appropriate this year,” Ganzi said. “It will happen with no fans, of course, which is also totally appropriate. We’ve got an incredible safety plan and a group of four doctors who are testing all the players.”

The event officially got underway Thursday with a virtual team draw before qualification games were held Friday at the Aspen Valley Polo Club’s facility near Carbondale. The action now shifts to Rio Grande Park in Aspen, which will host four combined games Saturday and Sunday. For a short moment back in October it seemed the event was going to be held at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen, its original home, but that idea quickly lost support.

Due to COVID-19 rules, spectators will not be allowed to attend this year. There will be no grandstand this weekend and the traditional VIP tent has been replaced by numerous smaller tents to keep groups isolated. While the party will have to wait until 2021, Ganzi thought it important to give the athletes a chance to play considering the entire European snow polo circuit has been canceled this winter because of the pandemic.

“This will be the only snow polo event in the world during COVID,” Ganzi said. “We want to do it because it’s great for the community. It’s great to showcase polo being played in the winter. It’s the only snow polo tournament in North America.”

The six teams taking part this year include Casablanca, White Claw, Richard Mille, Royal Salute, St. Regis and World Polo League. Richard Mille, which makes high-end watches, had won the past two years but will see its streak end this year as Sunday’s championship game will feature Royal Salute and World Polo League.

Richard Mille beat Flexjet in the final of the 2018 World Snow Polo Championship, 6-5, on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, at Rio Grande Park in Aspen. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)

While this year’s tournament doesn’t feature quite as many pros due to the pandemic and other scheduling conflicts, it still includes Aspen snow polo mainstays such as Nic Roldan and Nacho Figueras.

Not competing this year are Marc and Melissa Ganzi, the husband-and-wife duo who founded the AVPC in 2014 and created the Aspen snow polo tournament. Their two kids, Grant and Riley, will still represent the family on horseback this weekend, but Marc Ganzi said this seemed like a good year to let others take up the reins. Both Marc and Melissa are past Aspen snow polo champions.

“This was a year for us to sit back and watch the event and be spectators a little bit and most importantly focus on making sure it is run safely,” Marc Ganzi said. “That has really taken a lot of work. I know Mellissa has been working tirelessly to insure the safety of all the players and the safety of the horses and the grooms. This stuff isn’t easy.”

As players have arrived in Aspen over the past few days, they’ve been isolated in their own “snow polo bubble” and tested for the coronavirus. They’ll try and maintain that bubble this weekend at Rio Grande Park and will have people on hand to deter spectators from lingering around the field.

However, for those still wanting to watch the action, all games will be live streamed online through Game times Saturday are tentatively scheduled for 1:15 p.m. (fifth-place match) and 2:30 p.m. (Celebrity Polo Chukker), with Sunday’s championship starting at 1 p.m. and the third-place match to follow at 3 p.m. A trophy presentation is tentatively scheduled for just after 4 p.m.

“I thought it wasn’t going to happen. If we turn back the clock two to three months ago, it was looking pretty hard. But we’ve managed to create the right safety plan,” Marc Ganzi said. “Really, the focus is on making sure the Cup gets played and making sure we maintain our partnerships here locally and most importantly making sure the hospital is supported.”

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