Snow polo rides to Rio Grande | AspenTimes.com

Snow polo rides to Rio Grande

Janet Urquhart

A member of the Land Rover team has his shot blocked during the 2003 World Snow Polo Championships at Wagner Park. (File photo)

This year’s World Snow Polo Championships will have to settle for Rio Grande Park after three years of competition at the higher-profile Wagner Park in downtown Aspen.Frustrated organizers of the event have been told polo is a no-go at Wagner – a decision of the Aspen Parks Department. Barry Stout, a New Castle rancher and the event’s director, pleaded again during Wednesday’s meeting of the city’s Special Events Committee for permission to use Wagner for the December tournament.”Rio is what you’re being offered,” said Steve Slack, parks supervisor.

For the past three years, players from around the country and abroad have played a round-robin tournament at Wagner Park. Spectators line the park to watch the unusual action for free.The polo tournament will be sanctioned this year for the first time by the U.S. Polo Association. It’s the first snow polo event the organization has ever sanctioned, Stout said.”It really means it’s being recognized by the governing group in the country,” he said.The polo championships, now in their sixth year, moved into Aspen four years ago, originally playing at Rio Grande Park – off Mill Street, north of the downtown core – after the city rejected a request to hold the event at the more visible Wagner Park. After parks officials concluded the horses caused little damage to the turf at Rio Grande, the city agreed to permit the tournament at Wagner Park, where it has taken place for the past three winters.

Since then, however, winter use of Wagner has exploded. Various events have made use of the park, including two nights of concerts during the Winter X Games.”It just can’t handle X number of events,” said David Hoefer, assistant city attorney and a committee member. “I think everybody likes the event. It’s just a judgment call – which events should go to Wagner Park.””We don’t damage the park,” Stout said.”I think if we’re going down to Rio Grande, we’re just going to lose a lot of participation – people walking on the mall, people seeing it from the gondola,” he said. “I think it’s taking the wind out of something that’s very unique.”

Don Sheeley, representing Aspen’s Sister Cities organization, urged the committee to allow polo to continue at Wagner Park. The event raises funds for scholarships that send local youths to Aspen’s Sister Cities, and the more visible location helps the fund-raising component, he said.Keith Sexton, sales and marketing director at the Limelite Lodge, also lobbied for Wagner. The Limelite is across the street from Wagner Park, and has provided accommodations for participants in the tournament and, last year, a spot for the horses.The tournament will take place at Rio Grande if that’s the only venue the city will permit, Stout said. He was advised he could appeal the decision to City Manager Steve Barwick.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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