Although a veritable skier’s paradise, Aspen is less known for its polo, especially in winter. Yet every January for the past four years, the Aspen Polo Club has converted the local football field into a snow polo arena to host what is becoming a popular attraction for the international jet-setting community. Snow polo, although still a relatively rare variant of polo, is slowly extending its influence. First played in 1985 at St Moritz upon a frozen lake, where it continues to thrive as a ‘must go’ event for Europe’s elite, snow polo, in addition to our current destination, has since extended its reach to Kitzbuehel in Germany, Tianjin in China, and Poland’s Zakopane.
When the opportunity to combine skiing with polo emerged, in such spectacular surrounds, it seemed irresponsible, if not unforgivable, to pass it up. And so, Natalie and I, with kids in tow, swapped the heat of a Sydney summer for a winter wonderland in Colorado. In fact, given the flight from Australia now takes less than 16 hours (plus a short connecting flight from Los Angeles), we would not be the only Aussies to shred those slopes, by any means. Indeed, we were a modest contribution to the thousands of skiing fanatics who visit Aspen each season from Australia, translating to a massive 30 per cent of the annual international visitor quota, which is not bad for a sunburnt country known more for its sweeping beaches, sharks and other stuff that wants to kill you, than for its skiers.
An aerial approach over Aspen exposes the eager tourist to sweeping views of snow covered Spruce forests carpeting rugged mountains and valleys, as far as the horizon allows. The surrounding wilderness harbours an array of flora and fauna, which give the vast State of Colorado its natural identity, ranging from beavers, bald eagles and elk, to mountain lions and wolves, which prey upon the latter, and the mighty black bear.
Streams filtering through the pristine wilderness, fed by the snowmelt, create a thriving, oxygen-rich habitat for various native trout species, luring fly fishermen from
all over the world to try their luck in the Fry-Pan River, an iconic recreational fishery.
As the plane descended, the forests were abruptly confronted by large open fields, which, in summer transform to verdant ranches and hobby farms. In winter, they are heaped with snow, which merely hints with clues within its contours, at what may lie beneath. Further still, Aspen Valley finally materialises, revealing its true treasure for the thousands who descend annually on this picturesque alpine village – boundless ski slopes piled with powder.
Aspen Valley finally materialises, revealing its true treasure for the thousands who descend annually on this picturesque alpine village – boundless ski slopes piled with powder.
The plane finally touched down at a postcard-perfect airport flanked by snow-covered mountains thrusting into azure skies on either side, which constitute the enchanting valley that is Aspen. Lining the tarmac were a plethora of private jets from various international destinations, cementing its reputation as a getaway for the ‘well heeled’ and famous. The weather was perfect; vista magnificent; and even our kids were impressed.
After settling into the Jerome Hotel, a historical relic from the early settlement era converted into luxurious accommodation, and rightly considered one of the most esteemed places to stay in the valley, we set upon exploring the slopes and restaurants offered by Aspen. Among the latter was the White House Tavern, with its casual and relaxed atmosphere, where we launched into a selection of mouth watering dishes ranging from the Honour Burger to the Macho Salad. A more refined palate was offered by Matsuhisa, at which our culinary senses were regaled by some of the finest seafood dishes, offered anywhere, including sustainably caught Patagonian toothfish sashimi, served on a bed of crushed ice, quite possibly manually chipped from an Antarctic Iceberg by the chef himself.
However, it was the Aspen Snow Polo we were really here to see, and so we embarked upon meeting some of the organisers and players to acquire some ‘inside information’, and to weave ourselves into the fabric of this grand event, rather than remaining mere tourists.
On top of our list were Marc and Melissa Ganzi, who have been the driving force behind the event since its inception. Being involved in orchestrating various Urban Polo events across Australia, it was with great interest that I listened to the dramatic preparation required to stage a snow polo event, including the need to bring in, and compact with snow mobiles, extra snow as a foundation for the horses, as well as the VIP marquee, which was elevated and ingeniously heated from beneath, to ensure those within were at the optimum level of comfort.
On the day itself, we caught up with Lucas Rogers, the winner of the ‘Best & Fairest’ medal at the 2016 ‘Polo in the City’ series (the prize for which was an all expenses paid trip to Aspen!) and his wife Katia we were also very fortunate to meet popular polo player Nic Roldan, who is America’s answer to Nacho Figueras. Quite fittingly, the question himself, Nacho, was also one of the star attractions at the event. Always the consummate gentlemen and professional, Nacho was happy to relive the time we hosted him at our Melbourne ‘Polo in the City’ event back in 2009.
Other notables and celebrities who filtered through the VIP marquee included ‘The Body’ and fellow antipodean, Elle McPherson, who still manages to look amazing in her mature years, and whose son is reputed to be an accomplished polo player in his own right. To top off the A-list, Australian Polo Royalty, James Packer, requiring no introduction as one of the world’s biggest polo patrons and benefactors, popped in with then fiancée Mariah Carey.
A good exhibition polo tournament, in its various guises, is an ‘all encompassing’ experience which combines one of the world’s oldest and most exhilarating sports, with a spectacular backdrop, comfort, luxury, culinary delights and engaging company.
Aspen Snow Polo certainly exceeded the threshold in all these respects, and the competitive matches proved a thrilling context within which to spend an indulgent Saturday afternoon in Aspen Valley, Colorado. We very much look forward to returning there again in the not too distant future. Next time, I may bring my polo gear to enjoy the day in a more physical context, on the other side of the safety barrier, where there may be distinctly less food and alcohol, but even greater intoxication from playing snow polo!