The sound of hooves thundering across a snowy field filled the air Thursday afternoon as the finals and third-place game of the St. Regis World Snow Polo Championships played out in Rio Grande Park. It was a familiar and welcome sound in a town that was built on horse power once upon a time, but it was nearly drowned out by the convivial conversation in the decked-out VIP tent, a pair of enthusiastic announcers who may as well have been at a World Cup soccer game and the between-chukker grooves spun by Aspen’s own DJ Dylan.
If it sounds like a social occasion every bit as much as it does a sporting event, you’re not too far off; the event’s hosts, Marc and Melissa Ganzi, have been named to the Salonierre 100 list of the nation’s best party hosts for two years running. But make no mistake, this was a serious competition, the only snow polo event in North America, and some of the world’s finest professional polo players were involved.
An ice-sculpture raw bar with jumbo shrimp and crab claws in the VIP tent at the St. Regis World Snow Polo Championships.
Hailing mainly from Mexico and Argentina, where polo is wildly popular, and sporting such exotic-sounding names as Gonzalito Pieres, Alejandro Novillo Astrada and Julio Gracida, the hired guns on hand were led by the awesomely named Nacho Figueras, a longtime pro who also works as a brand ambassador for St. Regis, a hotel chain for which polo is a big deal.
“Polo is one of our brand pillars,” said Lisa Holladay, global brand leader for St. Regis. “John Jacob Astor founded the St. Regis in New York in 1904, and his family used to host polo matches on Governors Island in New York Harbor, so we like to honor the spirit of our founder.”
In addition to being a gathering of Aspen’s well-heeled equestrian lovers and a prominent competition, the event and a series of corresponding dinners and parties, including the inaugural Snow Polo Gala, serve as a fundraiser for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.
“We’re building the new hospital, and we’re about three-quarters finished,” said John Sarpa, the foundation’s board chairman. “So the snow polo and the summer polo event (at the Ganzis’ Aspen Valley Polo Club near Carbondale) are a big shot in the arm.”
The polo pros teamed with ranked amateurs to form six three-person squads that competed in qualifying matches Tuesday at Aspen Valley Polo Club. From that round-robin affair, four finalists representing event sponsors Richard Mille, Flexjet, Aspen Valley Polo Club and the U.S. Polo Association moved on to Thursday’s finals. Team Richard Mille topped Team Flexjet 6-5 in the championship game to take the crown, and then Team Aspen Valley Polo Club doubled up the U.S. Polo Association squad 6-3 to earn third place.
“It was great game, wide open with lots of flow, and everyone played well,” said Marc Ganzi after the championship, “but the horses were the real stars.”
Pablo MacDonough of tournament champion Team Richard Mille jockeys for position during the St. Regis World Snow Polo Championships in Rio Grande Park.
In addition to hosting the party and supplying all the star horses, Ganzi, one of America’s finest amateur polo players, struck gold as a member of Team Richard Mille. Indeed, it was a family affair for the Ganzis, with Melissa playing on Team Flexjet and their son, Grant, riding with the U.S. Polo Association trio. Ganzi acknowledged the fun of having his family involved, but he was quick to pivot to the deeper meaning behind the event.
“The most important thing to Melissa and me is to use this platform as a way to give back to the community,” said Ganzi, a former Aspen Country Day School student. “If we can raise some money and help out, that makes us feel good.”
Following the third-place game, the horses were led away to cool down and enjoy post-match meals, and the awards were handed out, but the scene in the VIP tent carried on unabated, with grilled lamb chops, super-jumbo shrimp, crab claws, bloody Marys and other signature cocktails from Blade & Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, another event sponsor. No one seemed in a hurry to leave.
The competition portion of the event may have wrapped up, but the party was just getting started.
Todd Hartley is the special sections editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.