Aspen in the winter: It conjures images of lift rides up the mountain, cozy slope-side chalets, and roaring fireplaces where fashionably-dressed skiers gather in equally well-appointed après ski lounges. You’d be forgiven if horses and polo sticks were not part of your vision.
Yet for nearly three decades now, a wintertime variant of polo matches—snow polo—has had a dedicated following around the world, and in the United States, the mountainous Colorado town of Aspen is its home.
The sport first started in 1985 in the town of St. Moritz, Switzerland, and events are played in Italy, Austria, France, the United States, Argentina, Russia and Spain. Snow polo’s popularity is also growing in Asia, and in 2012, the Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup was established at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, considered China’s leading polo venue.
To understand snow polo, just imagine a regular polo match played on a snow-packed arena where spectators can stand right up next to the fences that border the field (which is often slightly smaller than a regular polo field). The polo ponies are fitted with special shoes to prevent sliding, and teams of three players compete in four, seven-minute periods—known as chukkers—with a ball that is larger and lighter than the traditional polo ball and colored red or orange for greater visibility on the snowy surface. In sum, it has all the panache and style of a summertime polo match—but served up with winter coats and warm drinks
Aspen is home to the only snow polo arena in the United States and has been the location for the Piaget World Snow Polo Championships, held in December and hosted by the Aspen Valley Polo Club. Matches have free general admission, but the smart money will purchase tickets granting admission to an on-site VIP tent that includes light fare catered by the St. Regis Hotel and time to meet and greet with some of the most famous players in the sport.
Where to stay: The luxury of the St. Regis Hotel is a good place to call home, partly for the mountainside location and the hotel’s role as a regular sponsor of the championships. Expect to rub elbows with many of the event’s players and spectators, and while you’re there, warm up at the hotel’s Remède Spa.