With snow-capped Aspen Mountain as a breathtaking backdrop, the much-anticipated St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship was held in mid-December at Rio Grande Park in the heart of Aspen, Colorado.
For the fifth consecutive year, Melissa and Marc Ganzi, co-founders of Aspen Valley Polo Club, along with polo ambassador and St. Regis Connoisseur Nacho Figueras and his wife Delfina, hosted the star-studded glamorous weekend of sport, socializing and style. Figueras is one of the sport’s most popular and well-recognized players in the world.
The event joins St. Moritz as one of the world's top snow polo tournaments and one of Aspen's major international sporting events. It is the only snow polo event in North America and kickoff to the social season in Aspen.
"Aspen is now a meaningful stop on the summer and winter international polo circuit," said Marc Ganzi, who grew up in Aspen. "With the World Snow Polo Championship, World Cup skiing and X-Games, people can now consider Aspen a home to major international sporting events. That is something that the city of Aspen can be proud of."
The final stop on the World Polo Tour where players compete for valuable points in the final snow polo event of the year attracted some of the biggest names in polo which was evident throughout the three days of competition.
U.S. Polo Assn. defeated defending champion Flexjet in a rematch of the 2016 final to win the coveted St. Regis World Snow Polo title. In front of a record crowd including a sold out VIP tent and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, U.S. Polo Assn. reclaimed the coveted trophy it won in 2015 and avenged last year's loss to Flexjet by controlling most of the game and holding off a fourth-chukker rally for a thrilling 5-4 victory.
U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nic Roldan), making its fourth finals appearance in five years, relied on its team chemistry to jump out to a 4-1 halftime lead. Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Alejandro Novillo Astrada) found its offensive punch in the second half, outscoring U.S. Polo Assn., 3-1, but ran out of time.
Nic Roldan, the team's field general, was named Most Valuable Player for the fourth time in five years after scoring three goals. Roldan finished with 11 goals for the tournament. Javi, a 7-year-old stallion, ridden by Alejandro Novillo Astrada and owned by the Ganzis' Wellington, Fla.-based Santa Rita Polo Farm, was Best Playing Pony.
U.S. Polo Assn. now joins past winners: 2016, champion Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Jesse Bray); 2015, U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Juancito Bollini); 2014, Piaget (Marc Ganzi, Jeff Hall, Nic Roldan); and 2013, St. Regis (Nacho Figueras, Nic Roldan, Brandon Phillips).
"This event was really successful," Roldan said. "This was probably one of the most successful and competitive ones and we just had a great time." Roldan is one of the top-rated American players and youngest player ever to win the U.S. Open at age 15.
"The excitement always builds for this event," Roldan said. "It's another great way to promote polo to fans who haven't watched it before. You have some of the greatest players out here. Snow polo is such a fun event. It's great because the spectators are really involved when they can see the game slower, on a smaller field.
There were two other games to determine the places for the remaining four teams. St. Regis (Marc Ganzi, Nacho Figueras, Nico Pieres) captured the St. Regis Snow Cup with an 8-7 win over Icon Global Aspen Valley Polo Club (Bernie Uechtritz, Carlitos Gracida, Nacho Novillo Astrada) in the subsidiary. Pieres, making his snow polo debut, scored on a incredible back shot off the post for the game-winner as time ran out. Figueras was named MVP. Fendi, an 11-year-old black mare ridden by Figueras, was selected Best Playing Pony.
After two shootouts, Audi (Jim Miller, Magoo Laprida, Luis Escobar) defeated Moet (Mike Azzaro, Jason Crowder, Bash Kazi/Omar Mangalhi), 6-5, to finish fifth in the six-team tournament and win the Aspen Valley Snow Cup.
U.S. Polo Assn. also won Saturday's fun Celebrity Chukker with actor Sterling Jones, Sarah Magness and Nacho Novillo Astrada with a 2-1 victory over St. Regis (actress Saye Yabandeh, ESPN announcer Tucan Pereyra Iraola, Nacho Figueras). Jones scored two goals including the game-winner.
Guests in the sold-out heated VIP tent that featured Alpine luxe furnishing, were able to relax and watch world-class snow polo in a fun, festive atmosphere. They were treated to signature St. Regis Aspen Resort rituals including afternoon tea, a fine array of light fare and iconic St. Regis Bloody Mary cocktail.