The power, passion and sheer beauty of the Snow Polo World Cup in St Moritz is the vision of one man, Reto Gaudenzi
In the highly competitive market of elite-level ski resorts, it takes something special to stay ahead of the pack. Starchitect-designed chalets? They are on every Alp. Michelin-starred food? It is de rigeur across the board. Boutiques of the world’s biggest brands? From Aspen to Zermatt, everybody has them. To really make a mark, you need to go the extra mile. You need to take a sport that already teeters on the edge of the impossible – one that is played on horseback, at heart-stopping speeds, with enormous mallets – and then transport it halfway up a mountain where it will be played on a frozen lake. To stay number one, you need to invest snow polo.
And that is exactly what Reto Gaudenzi did in 1985, when he founded the Snow Polo World Cup in St Moritz. Since then, the impact on the Swiss town has been phenomenal. Gaudenzi’s motives at the time were twofold. First, he wanted to continue the St Moritz grand tradition of inventing new sports – it is, of course, the home of the bobsleigh and the fabled Cresta Run. So he brought polo from the grass to the frozen lake and introduced a new, larger polo ball that was specifically designed for the snow. Second, he wanted to increase the revenue for his Swiss hometown by filling a gap in the calendar at the end of January with a world-class event. And so the World Cup was born.
“High-end events like the Snow Polo World Cup are key to the success of top destinations such as St Moritz today,” says Gaudenzi. “Regular holidays have changed completely. People don’t go to one place for two weeks any more, especially in this type of market.”
The numbers back him up. Depending on the weather, between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators attend the three days of the snow polo event, and his last survey estimated that the event brings in 10-12 million Swiss Francs ($10-12 million) to the region every year. The earnings are dwarfed, however, by the incalculable benefit that the event brings in terms of public relations. “When we launched the event in 1985, we had more worldwide press than St Moritz’s two Winter Olympics put together,” says Gaudenzi. Of course, this kind of publicity is crucial for a region in which tourism is responsible for 68 percent of its economic output, with St Moritz alone accommodating nine five-star hotels and seven Michelin-starred restaurants.
This year, the Snow Polo World Cup St Moritz is happening on 25–27 January. There are four teams battling for the trophy: Cartier, Azerbaijan Land of Fire, Badrutt’s Palace Hotel and Maserati. Returning to St. Moritz for Cartier is polo superstar Juan Martin Nero, who is ranked as one of the top three players in the world. The Argentine last lifted the trophy in 2004 and the 10-goaler will be keen to claim the title again. At 1,800m above sea level, the teams put their skills to the test in some of the most demanding conditions on the world, but against a stunning backdrop of the Engadin Valley.
To mark the 35thyear of the event, the Sarhadchi cavalry are flying in from Azerbaijan to captivate the crowds with an acrobatic performance of their thoroughbred Karabakh horses. The group of 12 horsemen formed in 2012 and have been performing around the world since, including for Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday celebrations.
“St Moritz has always been a trailblazer,” says Fabrizio D’Aloisio, Director of Corporate Communications for the municipality of St Moritz. “Events such as the Snow Polo World Cup have led to the resort developing this prestigious reputation. The brand’s consistent long-term strategy is one of the key reasons that St Moritz is known today as the world’s most famous mountain-holiday destination.”
It is this profile that has made possible corporate partnerships such as that enjoyed with Deutsche Bank Wealth Management, which has been associated with the event since 2012. Nicola West, Global Head of Events, Partnerships and Sponsorships at Deutsche Bank Wealth Management says, “The Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz is one of Switzerland’s most prominent sporting events and we are proud to be the lead global partner again this year. The qualities displayed in the heated, sub-zero contest align well with the set of values that we bring to our clients: co-operation, thinking ahead, precision and reliability.”
These qualities are important, too in the staging of such a high-concept event, which requires a budget of around 2.5 million Swiss Francs ($2.5 million) and constant innovation. “Technology is very important for us,” says Gaudenzi. “For example, we can now measure the ice thickness with radar and heat-seeking cameras. And the machinery for preparing the field is state of the art, with an unsinkable, self-saving Ratrak (a piste-bashing machine), designed especially for St Moritz. Even the build of the infrastructure is much easier, with light metal tents, grandstands and other structures.”
Events such at the Snow Polo World Cup may require a visionary imagination, rigorous planning and the very latest technology, but they are essential if destinations such as St Moritz are to maintain their international allure. As Gaudenzi neatly sums up: “We are building a city on a frozen lake just for the event. There is only 40cm of ice. It is a hell of an atmosphere and it can only be created in St Moritz. You need to have all the right ingredients: the snow, the sunshine, the people, the horses, the excitement of the polo. It creates a cocktail that goes down very well.”
Colin Ryder is a freelance writer specialising in sports and travel
Images taken by Charlie Dailey, as originally published in the October 2018 issue of WERTE, the client magazine of Deutsche Bank Wealth Management, by Condé Nast
For further information about this year's Snow Polo World Cup in St Moritz, please visit the event website. You can find out more about how Reto Gaudenzi founded the sport of snow polo in a further interview here.