Unlikely locations and bright orange balls: 7 things you never knew about snow polo

The winter game is a high adrenaline alternative to traditional grass polo, and a fascinating sport in itself as we discover...

1. Snow polo has in fact been played for more than 30 years, ever since Swiss hotelier Reto Gaudenzi launched the St Moritz Snow Polo World Cup in 1985. The tournament, played on a frozen lake in the stunning Swiss Alps, remains the most prestigious snow polo tournament in the world.

2. It’s not only played in the Alps. While the most well known events take place in St Moritz, Switzerland, and Kitzbühel, Austria, a tournament takes place in Aspen, Colarado, each December, and from 2011 to 2017, the Federation of International Polo ran a sanctioned Snow Polo World Cup in the somewhat unlikely location of Tianjin, China. Over the past 20 years, snow polo has also been held in Poland, Russia and Germany.

3. Roughly 5,000 cubic metres of snow is required to create the playing surface on the frozen lake in St Moritz, and the ice must be a minimum of 50cm thick to ensure safety.

4. Some of the world’s very best players also play snow polo, including Argentine 10-goalers Juan Martin Nero, Pablo MacDonough and Gonzalito Pieres. Britain’s most successful snow polo player is Chris Hyde, who has seven St Moritz titles to his name.

5. Rather than the white polo ball used for grass polo, a larger, bright orange ball is commonly used for the winter game — to ensure it can be seen clearly against the snow.

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6. Tack and equipment used is generally the same as in grass polo, though ponies tend to wear an extra stud in each shoe to help increase traction on the snow. At the Kitzbühel event, it is also compulsory for ponies to wear overreach boots while playing.

7. Reto Gaudenzi, known as ‘the Godfather of polo’, is also a skilled player himself, having won the St Moritz title five times. Polo isn’t his only sporting love, though — growing up in the Alps, he skied and played ice hockey, and was also on the Swiss national bobsleigh team during the 1970s.

Catch snow polo in Kitzbühel, Austria on 16-19 January 2020, and in St Moritz, Switzerland on 24-26 January 2020.

Don’t miss the 28 November issue of H&H for our full feature on the sport of snow polo.