Skiers zip down the hillside along the edge of Courchevel’s short and dangerous airport, but today they stop and sit in the snow banks. The History Channel ranked this airport as the seventh most dangerous airport in the world, but for three days it is fenced and groomed for the BMW Snow Polo Master’s Tournament. This is the highest snow polo tournament in the world at 2700m.
Courchevel is located in the French Alps and it is part of Les Trois Vallées (The Three Valleys), the largest ski resort in the world. During the polo tournament, avid skiers and polo lovers alike stop to watch these athletes slam mallets, take off in bursts of snow, and send that special red polo ball sailing in the air.
These teams play in 7 minute sets with 3 minute breaks to change horses. Each match is 4 quarters. These athletes travel from all over the world. They had recently played in China prior to coming to the French Alps.
Now, how do these horses run and turn on a snow packed airport in the Alps without falling? Each horse has heels and toes plus pads to prevent snowballing. To those unfamiliar with this, picture your typical horseshoe. There is a metal lip on the top of the shoe (the toe) and two metal studs on the ends of the shoe (the heel). This gives these ponies traction and digging power on packed snow. A rubber pad is placed between the hoof and the horseshoe. This prevents snowballing in the sole of the hoof. When the horse’s weight is taken off the hoof, the pad will flex and dislodge any snow accumulated.
The sport of snow polo has some modification. A large inflated red ball is used as opposed to the traditional small white ball. In addition, there are 3 players per team instead of 4 and the field is a bit smaller.
The 2014 tournament in Courchevel ran from January 30th to Feburary 2nd. There are no announcements for 2015. Watch here for updates.