Snow, St. Moritz and horses are a tradition that started as early as 1907 when, organisers hit on the idea of staging a series of horse races which the called the White Turf. The jockeys called skijors rode behind their horses on skis. Then the inventive and adventurous community hit on another spectacular idea. Why not winter polo as well as horse racing?
The idea took off. Since 1985 St. Moritz has staged an annual snow polo event. This makes 2015, the 30th anniversary year. And, by now, the locals and organizers have got things down to a fine art. But it was not always so.
Just as the world community had difficulty comprehending how football could be played in the soaring temperatures of a Qatari summer without players swooning in the heat, so people struggled with how to play polo in the winter. However, because of its uniqueness, St. Moritz is has become one of the best venues to watch polo live.
Solutions had to be found and over the year these solutions have gained in sophistication. Thirty years ago the Swiss used a little Bombardier machine to help turn the frozen lake into a suitable field. Whereas today, they confidently mix the right proportions of ice with layers of prepared snow to get prevent the field becoming an ice rink.
Safety is not just a necessity, but the basis of ensuring smooth play. To stop the horses slipping and crashing, modern snow polo horseshoes have a lip at the toe, coupled with cleats at the heel. The orange ball is also larger, lighter than the ball used in grass tournaments.
Snowstorms cannot however be stopped. That, however, just adds to the event’s allure. In 1999, for example, the snowstorm and cold were so bad that the horses had to take shelter in the VIP tent.
The play this year was particularly exciting. Cartier dominated the game, gaining an impressive 5-1.5 lead by the start of the third chukker and finalizing their win against BMW by 10 goals 2.5. Chris Hyde, one of the best snow polo players scored five out of the ten goals for Cartier.