They took their horses to the Swiss Alps for snow polo. They got slush instead.


The horses were all ready. The players were ready. So did the spectators, many of whom had arrived at the idyllic winter wonderland of St. Moritz, Switzerland, in soft fur coats and stylish moon boots. Everything came together for the Snow Polo World Cup.

But the weather didn’t play along.

Due to the high temperatures, the frozen lake of St. Moritz has become too melting and slippery for the horses to gallop. As a result, event founder Reto Gaudenzi canceled all matches in the 39th edition of the tournament which ran from Friday to Sunday and resorted to three days of slower, more stationary penalty shootouts.

The event, which features a variation of polo played on packed snow atop the frozen surface of the lake, attracts thousands of people to St. Moritz, a luxury ski resort, many from the highest echelons of the 1 percent. It is sponsored by companies selling private jets, exclusive retreats and high-end champagne, and included a gala dinner that organizers described as “the hottest ticket in town.”

The organizers tried to keep an optimistic tone: “With the smile of the weather gods, who may have brought too much sunshine recently to St. Moritz, the ice depth is good and completely safe,” they said. declared in a press release. (Although there is no risk of anyone falling through the ice, we were worried about horse falls on ice.)

Temperatures have been well below freezing in recent weeks, but the week before the tournament they reached 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. At night, temperatures dropped below freezing, but not long enough to prevent puddles from forming on the frozen lake.

These temperatures were unusually high, if not unheard of, for St. Moritz, which sits about 6,000 feet above sea level.

“It’s very mild for mountain regions,” said Lionel Peyraud, a forecaster at the Swiss weather service MétéoSuisse. “The air is really hot.”

The snow polo tournament still welcomed about 25,000 visitors over three days, organizers said, many of whom strolled around the lake eating food, listening to music and drinking champagne despite a truncated competition .

“It’s the perfect place,” said Markus Berger, a spokesman for Switzerland Tourism, adding that part of the reason for attending was to “see and be seen.”

“For a lot of them, it’s like a class reunion,” Mr. Berger said.

The end of January is peak season for winter tourism in the Swiss Alps. At the small Engadine airport, which welcomes private jets, about 25 jets landed and took off each day over the weekend, said Christian Gorfer, the airport’s financial director and a native of the region.

“It’s crazy right now,” Mr. Gorfer said. “As an airport, we must pay attention to the balance of movements and the environment.”

The Swiss tourism industry, which relies heavily on winter holidays, is well aware of climate change. Low-altitude communities, in particular, have tried in recent years to find other means of income by attracting people to activities other than skiing.

But St. Moritz is high enough that the effects of climate change are not yet felt so intensely, Berger said.

“I don’t know how the situation in St. Moritz will develop, whether this is an exception or whether it will become a new normal,” he said.

Even though the Snow Polo World Cup does not typically receive much mainstream media attention in Switzerland, the event’s problems are no less significant for the rest of the country, Berger said. because all this is part of the “image of Switzerland”. winter.”

The next event on the frozen lake of St. Moritz is scheduled for this weekend: the White Turf horse race. Thousands of people attend this event, which is more than a century old and takes place each year over three Sundays in February. But White Turf could face the same problems that plagued the Snow Polo World Cup: Temperatures are expected to stay in the low 40s Fahrenheit during the day this week, according to MeteoSwiss.

Despite sunny skies and relatively warm temperatures, White Turf racing manager Dennis Schiergen said he was optimistic the race would go ahead. “Now the temperatures are pretty stable and the lake is recovering,” he said.

On Friday, the first day of the snow polo tournament, Alessandra Fenyves, who was in St. Moritz both as a polo fan and an Italian freelance journalist, said the atmosphere was different from previous years. It was his seventh time there.

“It’s disappointing,” she said in a telephone interview, adding that she saw people leaving the usually crowded stands. “It’s like you turn off the music at a party and the waiter comes and takes the last chips off the table.”


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