Switzerland’s super-rich polo tournament – where the energy crisis doesn’t seem to exist

polo player at st moritz snow polo tournament 2023 - fotoswiss.com/giancarlo cattaneo

polo player at st moritz snow polo tournament 2023 – fotoswiss.com/giancarlo cattaneo

“To be a millionaire in snow polo, you have to be a billionaire first,” said Katja Grauwiler as we entered the VIP viewing area of ​​the 2023 Snow Polo World Cup in St Moritz. In the sloping stands, well-heeled – or should I say well-furred – guests clinked glasses of Perrier Jouet while politely cheering on teams playing against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

The competition is the most exclusive event on the annual European ski calendar, partly because of the luxurious experience available to guests, but also because of its elevated location on a frozen lake in the chic Swiss ski resort of St Moritz, 1,800 m above sea level. The Engadin Valley resort invented snow polo in 1985 and revives the sport every year on the last weekend of January, attracting around 25,000 spectators.

I was there on the first day of the competition to find out how such an event survives when ski resorts, elsewhere in Europe, are reducing lift capacity and turning off the heating amid an ongoing energy crisis.

Rachel Ingram at the 2023 Snow Polo World Cup in St Moritz

Rachel Ingram at the 2023 Snow Polo World Cup in St Moritz

One of a kind

It was a cool -9°C in the midday “heat”, the designer-clad guests didn’t seem to notice as they milled around the side lines or climbed onto seats covered in luxurious black throws. When the game was in full swing, only a soft murmur of chatter was broken by the occasional boom of a G6 private jet flying overhead, and we were close enough to the action to hear the mostly British players talking at encouraging each other – or apologizing. missing shot.

Between matches, the 750 guests retired to the heated VIP tent (cost CHF 350 (£307) to CHF 750 (£658) per person depending on the day), where caviar was served with a choice of Bellini or potatoes and shucked oysters. on ice beds. An international buffet spread, famous at Badrutt’s Palace, chased the diners in the main hall while in the lounge, various sponsors offered coffee, chocolate, alcohol and cigars to delighted guests.

polo - fotoswiss.com/giancarlo cattaneo

polo – fotoswiss.com/giancarlo cattaneo

While it’s not the only snow polo tournament in the world, it’s the “most important” because of the size of the field, said Grauwiler, an avid player and CEO of PR/ticular. “There are others in Kitzbühel, Cortina and Aspen but they are played on smaller pitches with three against three. In St Moritz, it is four against four, as in normal polo.

The three-day competition costs an average of CHF 2.5 million (£2.2 million) for organizers to host, with additional costs covered by the six teams, each of which brings at least 16 horses (four per player) to the valley Many horses are from Argentina, “because they are the best horses in the world,” Grauwiler said. “It’s a huge cost to the team owner, but if you win the competition, you win honour.”

heat wave woes

For the people of St Moritz, the event is a vital part of the ski season calendar. Organizers estimate that the three-day competition brings up to CHF 20 million (£17.7m) in revenue to the Swiss economy.

This year, it was hit and miss whether the event would happen due to the unseasonably warm weather, which meant the lake didn’t freeze as early, or as deep, as usual. “We have to build this construction on 30cm of ice,” said Grauwiler. “A local company measures the exact depth using sticks and drones, and you’re not even allowed to start building if the ice is under 24cm.”

Usually, the lake freezes “around Christmas”, but this year, it remained too delicate until January 18 when construction crews managed to clear it, just nine days before the competition started. “It was finished this morning at 10am,” she said. “You could say it’s because of global warming, but it happened in the past.”

The ‘ugly truth’

Despite having a warmer winter, the organizers admitted that they had little impact on increased costs due to the ongoing crisis in Europe. The first-class venues and hotels that cater to the competition’s guest business are booming.

One such establishment is the five-star Grand Hotel des Bains Kempinski St Moritz. The grand ski-in/ski-out hotel has a newly renovated lobby with an Art Deco bar offering cocktails and whiskey up to CHF 720 (£630) per glass, and restaurants including the former two-Michelin star Cà d’Oro and Italian so opulent that he serves caviar on top of pasta.

There is also a large Spa with multiple saunas, a heated pool, and a cryotherapy room cooled to -116 °C frequented by Olympians and guests looking to shake off the jet lag in three minutes. Walking the halls, it’s true, the crisis is far from people’s minds.



“It’s business as usual for all hotels like ours,” said Norman Zweyer, marketing manager at the hotel, which is operating at 90 percent capacity despite raising its prices. “All the costs have gone up because of energy costs but I think it’s like pocket money for the customers who are coming here. It doesn’t matter if they pay CHF 100 or 200 more per night.”

“The ugly truth is that St. Moritz was fully booked from the beginning of December, and will be more or less fully booked until the end of February. And the prices (the highest rates) are rack rates but people pay it,” Grauwiler added.

This attitude holds true throughout the resort. Designer stores, such as Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Cartier and Chopard, seemed much busier than London’s Bond Street. Louis Vuitton even had its own tent on the snow with a busy al fresco bar.

Kempinski lobby - Elisabeth Fransdonk

Kempinski lobby – Elisabeth Fransdonk

Transportation costs didn’t deter visitors, either, Grauwiler said as a Gulfstream G650 flew overhead toward Engadin Airport. “I heard the terminal is fully booked. Jets can fly in, but they have to fly out to Zurich or Milan and stay there because there is no space left for the whole weekend.”

Many of these guests fly from other parts of Switzerland and key markets including Germany and Italy, as well as newer territories including South America and Southeast Asia. The war in Ukraine seems to have had little effect on the number of visitors. “The truth is, we have never had more than 10 percent Russians staying here in St. Moritz,” says Grauwiler. “It was already declining before Covid and the war.”

As the sun set and guests filtered out of the stands to continue their nights at the resort’s well-heated restaurants, St Moritz seemed to be a bubble of its own – its expensive price tag matching a respite from the problems facing many. back home.

“Especially since Covid, people want to spend and spoil themselves and where can you do that better than here? You have great ski mountains, you have events, you have perfect hotels, and everything is exclusive,” Zweyer said. “It’s a unique place.” That is for sure.

How to do it: Rachel hosted the Grand Hotel des Bains Kempinski St Moritz, where double rooms start from CHF 550 (£482) per night in the summer season and from CHF 750 (£657) per night in the winter season , including breakfast and tax. . A visit kempinski.com. For more information on the St Moritz Snow Polo World Cup and for tickets, visit snowpolo-stmoritz.com.

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