Aspen snow polo " back in the saddle | AspenTimes.com

Aspen snow polo " back in the saddle

Linda Lafferty
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Team L'Hostaria's Kris Kampsen of Tampa Bay, Fla., knocks in a goal Sunday afternoon against Team WSB Capital during the second chukker of the World Snow Polo Cham­pionships at Rio Grande Park in Aspen. Team L'Hostoria won, 10-1. Andres Weisz of Team WSB Capital earned MVP honors. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” A terrifying tumble off her horse during Saturday’s opening rounds of the World Snow Polo Championships in Aspen might have left Melissa Ganzi badly shaken. But that didn’t seem to slow her down on Sunday, as her Team L’Hostaria rode to a convincing 10­1 victory over WJB Capital in the tourney finals.

A fall is a hard way to start a tournament, but Ganzi dusted off the snow and got back on her horse.

“Kris Kampsen [her teammate] hooked her reins by accident, she pulled back,” said photographer Kim Kumpart. “The horse reared up and hit her in the head.”

“I don’t know what happened, except the horse banged me in the head,” added Ganzi. “I was bleeding from my mouth, and I thought my teeth had been knocked out. I slid off the horse and started looking for my teeth in the snow.”

It turned out that the strange sensation Ganzi felt in her mouth was a hank of hair from the horse’s mane ” so she mounted up and got back into the match.

This is what it takes to play snow polo ” a woman frantically searching for her teeth in the snow and then getting back on her horse to finish the chukker. The following day she was all smiles and eager to compete in the finals.

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She even laughed and confessed that she was chagrined.

“The embarrassing thing was that I was crawling around, looking for my teeth in the snow, while everyone was watching,” she said. “And it was just a wad of horse hair jammed in my teeth that made me think they were knocked out.”

With deep snow on Aspen’s Rio Grande play­ing field, Saturday’s opening round was dif­ficult, even for the world-class riders who came to Aspen.

Argentina’s Juan Bollini said on Sunday, “We were digging and digging for the ball on Saturday ” the weather is better today.”

Bollini and his family have been coming to Aspen for snow polo for five years, and Bollini has been on the winning team for the last three.

What brings the top polo competitors in the world to Aspen to play snow polo?

“Aspen is fantastic,” he said. “The skiing, the town, my kids. It’s what makes us come back. The kids are skiing now. We come here on vacation, spend 10 days and then go to Argentina.”

But Bollini stresses that it gets competitive on the field.

“You know you want it to be fun, but still everyone wants to be a winner,” she said.

Tempers did flare a few times during the competition, especially on Saturday when the snow was deep and the game was ham­pered by the red inflatable ball disappearing under the snow.

But after the first chukkers, the snow was packed down. And after a few sessions with a wooden pallet dragged behind a snowmo­bile (Aspen snow polo’s version of a Zam­boni), the game progressed a little faster.

“The game became more fluid, with the ball moving more,” said Ganzi.

The games on Sunday were considerably faster, with some of the players able to show their skills on the snowy field. Bollini and Kampsen (last year’s tourney MVP) played off each other well, each anticipating the other’s actions.

In the first chukker, Kampsen scored two goals and Bollini one.

In the second chukker, Kampsen inter­cepted a shot from the endline by Andres Weisz of Team WJB Capital and sent the ball flying down the field. The ball ricocheted off another player, and Weiz came riding hard to push Kampsen away from the ball, but Bollini followed up and slammed the ball into the goal.

The third chukker saw Bollini score first and then the teamwork began in earnest. Bollini scooted the ball up along the snowfence to Kampsen who sent it on to his teammate Ganzi, who smacked the ball into the goal with a beautiful back shot.

In the fourth and final seven-minute chukker, Kampsen plowed the ball high and between the uprights in the first few seconds of play. Then laughter erupted on the field as Kampsen pretended to reach over his oppo­nent’s horse’s head and hook his mallet ” a definite “no-no” in polo, but at this point in the game, everyone was just out for a laugh. The tempers cooled, and WJB Capital had the grace to smile through the churned up snow and laugh at their loss. One more penalty shot by Juan Bollini and the match was over, L’Hostaria 10 and WJB Capital 1.

The consolation match ” a three team round robin ” resulted in a Team Audi win, 4-0, over Wright Group. Audi’s Nacho Figueras and Nick Roldan scored two goals each. In the first two chukkers of the round robin, Audi defeated Roaring Fork Fork Vil­lages, 4-0, with Figueras scoring three goals and Roldan one. MVP for the tournament was Andres Weisz of WJB Capital.

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