With the Snow Polo World Cup in St Moritz set to run from Friday to Sunday, British high goal player Max Charlton reveals the detail behind one of the most glamorous and unusual sporting events on earth.
“There’s probably about five inches of snow above the ice, packed like a cushion of snow,” says Charlton, who will be equipped with specially-designed thermal gloves and wearing thermal underwear.
“The horses have two studs in each foot rather than one in each hind foot (as they would for chukkas on a grassed field). They don’t slip at all. There’s no more slipping or sliding than there would be normally.”
Charlton says that players will hit with more of punch rather than a hit.
It has to be more controlled,” he explains. “An outdoor or field ball travels in a straight line. But this ball is really light and when you hit it, and if it’s windy, the ball will go up and over your head. It’s more about keeping it closer to the stick and giving it more of a punch.”
And if you get hit? Charlton says it might give you “a bit of a sting” but nothing much more than that. “It would be nothing more than if somebody struck a football at you. The aim is to try and keep it on the ground so that it doesn’t fly off. And then you punch it long.”
It is an extraordinary feat to get humans and horses to the three-day event, taking a day and a half to get the latter up to the ski resort. They are first transported in the truck, loaded onto a ferry, and from there in a transport truck, onto a train and through the mountains.
“We take about five horses per player, so there are about 20 horses per team,” Charlton says. “They leave on Monday morning and get there for Tuesday lunchtime. They stop every four hours for water and hay and then they come off once for a walk around. But that’s it.”
Charlton explained that travel for the horses is something they are accustomed to. “It’s a very normal process. You’ll have two lorry drivers and they’ll also be people who are licensed to look after the horses. You’ll have two in each truck and then you’ll have the grooms following behind in the car. It will probably be about 16 or 17 horses per truck.
“A lot of those horses are flown over from abroad. They travel to Spain, Saint Tropez and so on. They’re used to it. Every time a horse gets on a truck in England they’ll probably have to travel for three hours and play and do three hours on the way back. They’re used to it.”
Why the Snow Polo World Cup is special
The World Cup, planned once annually, remains one of the highlights of the polo calendar. “It’s not necessarily about how a player performs – because you also need a bit of luck and good wind. It’s more of a show, but it is very competitive and everyone takes it seriously,” says Charlton.
‘We forget we’re playing on a lake’
“It’s such a hard thing to do to play on a frozen lake. There are other kinds of tournaments but they’re not as prestigious and haven’t been going for over 30 years. It’s an amazing location. You’re playing on the lake and that makes it unique. You don’t even realise you’re on the lake because it’s covered by snow.”
“You can’t have any more teams because it’s only played over three days. It’s just the four teams. Just to get the teams on the ground is amazing. Obviously there’s months of preparation – horses, players, infrastructure, the organisation. It’s amazing and all for one weekend.”
Four teams will take part on the frozen lake at St Moritz (Getty)
Snow Polo World Cup, Jan 30-Feb 1 2015
Where: St Moritz
Who: Four “high goal” teams from Australia, Ireland, Italy and Switzerland will compete.
Normal polo rules apply but it is about three quarters or less in terms of the size of the pitch. There are four chukkas of seven minutes.
Team to beat:
Charlton will be part of a strong-looking Cartier team on the frozen lake looking for a third successive win in the Engadine Valley.
Team Cartier: Max Charlton (7), Chris Hyde (6) and Jonathan Munro Ford (0), Jamie Morrison (3).
Trois Pommes: Tutti Wolfensberger (1), Cedric Schweri (0), Pepe Riglos (6), Piki Diaz Alberdi (7)
BMW: Rommy Gianni (1), Paolo Netzsch (1), Dario Musso (7), Lucas Labat (6).
Badrutt’s Palace Hotel: Richard Fagan (1), Max Hutchinson (3), Richard Le Poer (6), James Harper (6)
We are looking for more polo clubs to be featured in the Telegraph during 2015. Email Rod Gilmour and Gareth A Davies