Steeds on snow: Polo matches in Aspen ‘awesome’
Some were drawn by the free booze and friendly atmosphere, some by the game’s finer points, while others were just taking a break from Christmas shopping.Whatever the reason for watching, spectators were mesmerized by the fifth annual World Snow Polo Championship at Aspen’s Wagner Park over the weekend.”It was awesome,” said Mark Volf of Basalt, who was there to meet friends. “It’s really impressive seeing something like this in Wagner Park.” Three teams competed in a round-robin format over the weekend, with Chase Manhattan defeating L’Hostaria 5-4 in Sunday’s championship game. A team from Hotel Colorado rounded out the field.The horses, specially bred for polo by Barry Stout on his ranch in New Castle, are fitted with shoes to navigate the snow-covered field.While the event draws competitive polo players from around the world, the primary motive is fun.”We all look forward to this,” said Tom Taylor, who has played in the tournament for the last four years. “We get the kids up here for a couple weeks, do some skiing and play some polo. It’s a lot of fun.”It’s definitely different than traditional polo, too. Aside from a surface covered in snow rather than turf, the field is dramatically smaller (traditional fields are 10 acres), each team consists of three players rather than four, and the ball is red and inflated to stay afloat.”The hardest part is the predictability of the ball on the snow,” Taylor said. While the field is groomed by a snowmobile trailing a metal grate between chukkers, or periods, holes from the horses hooves form quickly in the snow, creating an erratic and difficult style of play. For spectators, it was a chance to see a unique side of polo.”On snow it’s just fabulous … the horses and the sport itself,” said Ursula Holderbach, who lives in Aspen part time and has attended polo matches all over the world. “To watch them playing in this magnificent scenery and weather, they should have it more than once a year.””There’s just something about the beauty of the sport on snow,” echoed Cassandra Lohr, who used to live in Aspen. “And the people are fun.”Others were more captivated by lounging in the sun with friends and a cocktail.”It’s a wonderful thing,” said Chris Lilly of Aspen. “Free premium vodka – Colorado Vodka, it’s smoother than the snow – and free sunshine.”Peter Phibbs, a ski and snowboard instructor, said he’s seen the game played on grass, but was drawn by the style on the snow.”Anything to do with snow is a wonderful thing,” he said.Stout, who runs the tournament, said it continues to increase in popularity every year.”It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s growing every year with sponsors and crowds.”It’s very unique and a great exhibition.”Steve Benson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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The third weekend of play begins Thursday and runs through Sunday with the Bantam B, Squirt A and Squirt B divisions. Because of safety protocols, spectators aren’t allowed.