Audi stampedes past Gorsuch |

Audi stampedes past Gorsuch

Linda LaffertySpecial to The Aspen Times
Team Audi member Melissa Ganzi adjusts her helmet Saturday before the start of the World Snow Polo championship game at Aspen's Rio Grande Park. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Galloping through the swirling snow, a rider with long blonde hair flowing from under her pink helmet smacked the fuchsia polo ball through the uprights. “Goal for Melissa Ganzi!” the announcer roared. That goal, the first of the 2006 World Snow Polo Championship finals, provided the official winning margin for Team Audi. Fourteen goals and 28 hard-fought minutes of polo later, when the final horn blew, Audi had ridden over Gorsuch, 8-7.Sunday’s snowstorm provided a classic holiday touch to the finals of the seventh annual World Snow Polo Championship at Rio Grande Park. Between chukkers, a skidoo roared laps around the field, dragging a wood pallet to pack down the snow and smooth the surface. Children sang Christmas carols and Britt Hopkins, an Aspen Middle School seventh grader, sang an a capella solo of the national anthem.The sweetness of the holiday atmosphere and children’s voices contrasted sharply with the physical game – hard checks and high-speed, shoulder-to-shoulder riding as players battled for the brightly colored, inflatable ball. The pounding hooves churned up the snow, and a mallet snapped as players struck wildly at the ball. Hot words and quick tempers flared as two well-matched teams fought for the world title.Sunday’s finals saw Audi’s Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini and Brandon Phillips matched up against Gorsuch’s Marc Ganzi, Kris Kampsen and Chris Nevens. While Audi led from beginning to end, Gorsuch surged to a within one goal, 6-5, in the fourth chukker. Throughout the game, the competition was fierce. Though Audi led by as many as four goals, early in the game, Gorsuch’s Chris Nevins sent the ball blasting through the goal in the last five minutes of the game, bringing the final score to 8-7, Audi.

Some of the world’s top players traveled to Aspen for the weekend tournament. Some had never played in the snow nor skied, such as top professional Kris Kampsen, from Tampa.”I’m a Florida boy,” he said, with a broad grin. “Some of the other polo players are teaching me to ski. I love it! I skied Aspen Mountain and had a great time.”Seeing Kampsen play, his tall lanky body twisting up and out of the saddle at a full gallop to reach for the ball, it wasn’t hard to imagine that he would take to skiing and tackle Aspen Mountain on the first day. These professional players are superb athletes with uncanny balance and power.Kampsen did find one similarity between skiing for the first time and playing polo on the unfamiliar frozen surface.”You have to be cautious in the turns,” he said, noting a difference between playing polo on grass and on snow.

But Kampsen ran into difficulties of another kind. At the end of the second chukker of the championship game, he crumpled suddenly and slid off his horse, clutching his midsection.Melissa Ganzi’s horse had swung its head into his stomach during the play. But within minutes, Kampsen was striding back to the tent, smiling.”Just bad luck,” he said. “No one’s fault, these things happen in polo.”Despite the sudden stops and hard cutting turns, the horses appeared to have excellent traction. Their hooves were prepped for the snow with a inner lining of plastic tubing just inside the metal shoe. In Sunday’s finals, not a single horse slipped.”It’s a lot different than when we first started snow polo seven years ago,” said Don Delise, a local player who usually is in the snow polo lineup. “I remember a year at Cozy Point when we were playing on a much larger field and the ground was as hard as an icy tundra. It was a faster game but more slipping.”Event organizer Barry Stout of the Stout Ranch on Baldy Creek, provided all 25 horses for the championships. Grooms – actually experienced polo players from all over the country – worked to get the horses ready for the event.

“I flew in 10 days ago,” said Roxy Keyfauver, who plays in both California and Dallas. “We’ve been working the horses every day, going out every day in practice games, getting them ready.”Umpire Lloyd Rider chimed in. “We’ve given them some intense workouts for the past 10 weeks to get them ready for this event.”Still, one player at Friday’s welcoming party admitted he was a bit nervous having never played on snow.”It’s like a whole weekend of fear factor,” Juan Salinas Bentley joked nervously. “First time playing on snow and then skiing. I don’t know what scares me most!” Luis Escobar, a pro originally from Costa Rica smiled, “If I could change my sport to skiing and make a living, I would. I love Aspen.””I like doing this event,” said Tiziaano Gortan, owner of event-sponsor L’Hostaria. “These small events don’t have the same sponsorship as the X Games, but they are what make Aspen a very special place to be at Christmas time.”Look now. It’s snowing.”

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