From the 27th-29th January 2017, the frozen lake of St. Moritz plays host to the greatest snow polo tournament in the world. The Snow Polo World Cup, held annually in St. Moritz is the only polo tournament to be played on snow. With its outstandingly beautiful, natural setting and a magnificent backdrop of the snow-capped mountains of the Engadin Valley, the Snow Polo World Cup is an incredible experience both on and alongside the playing field. Expect world class food, at high end social events, held in first class hotels. It could only be St. Moritz, the home of snow polo.
Since 1985, every last weekend in January sees St. Moritz become the world capital of snow polo. Teams descend here from all across the globe for the much coveted Cartier Trophy.
Polo originated in Ancient Persia, now Iran, Afghanistan, Kashmir and northern Pakistan, and has been played for almost 3000 years. The game first came to St. Moritz in around 1899 when English soldiers, who were stationed there, built the first ever polo field. In 1959 a group of locals founded the St. Moritz polo club playing tournaments in the summers of 1960-1964. In 1978 hotelier Reto Gaudenzi formed Switzerland’s first ever polo team, playing their first ever match in 1983. But it wasn’t until 1985 when the premier match was held on the frozen lake of St. Moritz.
What started out as a bit of fun on the snow 30 years ago has since become an international phenomenon, with snow polo now being played across the world in arenas such as Aspen in the US and Cortina in Italy to Tianjin in China. However the St. Moritz event retains its title of the ritziest affair, the most prestigious polo tournament on snow, fetching the highest prize money.
This may sound like a very niche event, but in 2015, more than 12,000 spectators arrived in St. Moritz to experience a world of sports, set apart by elegance, speed, and the traditional British sporting spirit. The tournament culminates with the small and the grand finale on Sunday, but it is spectacular nonetheless. The challenge of playing on snow requires total concentration, dexterity, courage and endurance from both the world’s elite players as well as their horses.
Snow Polo was the dream of visionary Reto Gaudenzi, founder and CEO of the Snow Polo World Cup. He is immensely proud that in the 30 years it has been going on, they have only had nature beat them once, 12 years ago, forcing them to cancel the tournament that year. It is a feat of engineering in itself just to put on the tournament – thousands of tonnes of materials have to be brought up the mountain to allow the tournament to not only happen, but to host almost 20,000 people too. Gaudenzi himself has stated previously that he is aware people refer to it as a spectacle, not a sport, but he bats it off, he knows himself it is a very serious sport, and even if it is a little glamorous, who cares? They fill the city for the weekend and generate somewhere between seven and 10 million Swiss francs in revenue for the whole region.
And how do the horses cope with the cold and running on ice? Well, they had a blacksmith in St Moritz called Pepino Catanaio, who invented the hoof grip. The hoof grip was a piece of leather, between the hoof and the shoe of the horse, so the snow doesn’t get into the actual hoof. Over time this has developed and now they play with very good studs, which have a very safe grip.
Gaudenzi guarantees one thing, when guests leave on the Sunday after the final, they always want to come back.