By Sharon Robb

ASPEN, Colo., December 19, 2018--After the most exciting opening round in the history of the St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship, the stage is set for what promises to be an exciting final.

Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Alejandro Novillo Astrada), the 2016 snow polo champion, will meet first-year team Richard Mille (Marc Ganzi, Martin Pepa, Pablo MacDonough) in Thursday's championship final.

On Tuesday at Aspen Valley Polo Club's indoor arena, Flexjet advanced into the final with an impressive 10-6 victory over Aspen Valley Polo Club (Sarah Magness, Jason Crowder, Jesse Bray). Flexjet defeated Blade & Bow (Brian Boyd, Gonzalito Pieres, Carlitos Gracida), 6-5, in their opening two-chukker round robin and Aspen Valley Polo Club defeated Blade & Bow, 6-5, in their matchup.

Novillo Astrada scored a tournament-high 12 goals in four chukkers. Ganzi added three goals. Bray led Aspen Valley Polo Club with six goals, Crowder had three and Magness added one goal. Pieres led his team with four goals and Boyd and Gracida each had three goals for Blade & Bow.  

Richard Mille, featuring newly-crowned Argentine Open champion Pablo MacDonough making his snow polo tournament debut, Marc Ganzi and Martin Pepa upset defending champion U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Henry Porter) to advance into the final. The teams tied, 7-7, but based on net goals carried over from Richard Mille's 8-4 win over St. Regis (Nacho Figueras, Hilario Figueras, Julio Gracida), Richard Mille advanced. In the opening round robin, U.S. Polo Assn., which had an early 8-1 lead, defeated St. Regis 9-6.

MacDonough, who got off a plane from Argentina Tuesday morning, finished with seven goals. Pepa had five goals and Marc Ganzi added two. Roldan had nine goals and Porter scored three. Nacho Figueras led St. Regis with five goals. Hilario Figueras had three goals and Gracida added two goals.

Action moves to Rio Grande Park in Aspen on Wednesday for Media Day and game for fifth and sixth place between St. Regis and Blade & Bow at 1:15 p.m. followed by a Celebrity Polo Chukker featuring St. Regis (Saye Yabandeh, Erica Posalini, Nacho Figueras) and Richard Mille: Official Time Keeper (Alexa Dell, Sterling Jones, Pablo MacDonough) at 2:30 p.m. Gates open at noon.

The final and subsidiary games are Thursday at 1 and 3 p.m. followed by the trophy presentation at 4:15 p.m. and VIP tent party. Each night a dinner for players and sponsors will be held. Activities conclude Saturday with the inaugural Snow Ball.

The entire St. Regis Snow Polo World Championship is being livestreamed to a worldwide audience by ChukkerTV. The event is the final stop on the 2018 World Polo Tour and only snow polo event in North America. 

Between the two bracket tournament round robins, senior advisor Jamie Van Leeuwen, on behalf of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, presented a declaration of Dec. 17-20 as World Snow Polo Championship Days. 

There was also a check presentation to Carbondale Fire and Rescue for their outstanding job during the raging wild fires throughout nearby Colorado communities. Aspen Valley Polo Club collected donations throughout its summer polo season.

The snow polo tournament has become a major attraction for the local community and attracts fans from all over the world. One of the social events of the season is a major allure for the Aspen community and surrounding areas.

Richard Mille is the official timekeeper for the St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship. Mille created the RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo MacDonough for his Brand Ambassador.

For the first time in event history the week-long activities will feature the inaugural Snow Ball to benefit the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation at St. Regis Hotel.

For the sixth consecutive year, Aspen Valley Polo Club owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi, named to The Salonniere 100 annual list of the nation's best party hosts in Aspen for 2017 and 2018, are hosting the star-studded event along with polo ambassador and St. Regis Connoisseur Nacho Figueras and his wife Delfina.

In addition to U.S. Polo Assn. (2017) and Flexjet (2016), past St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship winners include: 2013, St. Regis (Nacho Figueras, Nic Roldan, Brandon Phillips); 2014, Piaget (Marc Ganzi, Jeff Hall, Nic Roldan); and 2015, U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Juancito Bollini).

For the first time in event history, the Snow Ball will be held Saturday as a benefit for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation, now in its sixth year as a non-profit solely focused on encouraging philanthropic support for the current and future needs of Aspen Valley Hospital. The Snow Polo Ball is expected to be the social event of the holiday season.

During the summer polo season at Aspen Valley Polo Club, a club record $537,200 was raised at its annual Chukkers, Champagne and Caviar fundraiser, topping the 2017 total of $366,000. 

Rio Grande Park is Aspen's largest multi-functional park within the city's limits and just minutes away from the St. Regis Aspen Resort.

The sport was first played on a frozen lake in St. Moritz, Switzerland, created by Swiss hotelier and polo visionary Reto Gaudenzi in 1985 and has been growing in popularity ever since, attracting thousands of spectators and top players from around the world. In addition to St. Moritz, it's played in winter sports communities Aspen, Cortina, Italy, Kitzbuhel, Austria, Courchevel, France and Tianjin, China.

In the U.S., snow polo is held exclusively in Aspen. Snow polo is a modified version of regulation polo. Games are played on a snow-packed field surrounded by fencing to keep the ball in play. Teams have three players instead of four as in typical polo. Play consists of four chukkers. The horses have special cleated shoes to provide better traction. The ball is larger and lighter and a specific color for visibility on the snowy surface.

With the breathtaking 12,965-foot summit of Mount Sopris as a backdrop, Aspen Valley Polo Club is one of the busiest and fastest growing USPA-sanctioned clubs in the nation with a membership increase of 75 percent over five seasons.

Since Marc and Melissa Ganzi founded the club in 2014, polo has increased in popularity in Aspen and surrounding cities with the club’s offerings of various weekly grass and arena tournaments, Gladiator Tuesdays and Asado, Kids Polo, The Polo School and Polo On Demand. 

All ages are welcome to enjoy polo at Aspen Valley Polo Club. Admission, food and refreshments are free for fans in a relaxed, laidback atmosphere. An added feature is the club's Jumbotron which made its debut this summer for the fans enjoyment.