It was almost midnight and the biggest storm to hit the Prättigau Valley since 1999 was just getting into its stride, when Markus Haltiner, the mayor of Klosters, got an urgent call. “It was Dani Waechter, director of Klosters Snow Polo,” says Haltiner. “So much snow had settled on the tents where the ponies were stabled he was worried they might collapse.” Within 30 minutes 10 local firefighters, Waechter and the mayor himself were on the scene to help in an emergency snow-clearing operation that went on until 4am.
For the annual polo event, whose eighth edition ran from January 18-22, overcoming obstacles has become something of a habit. In previous years Waechter’s team has had to import snow, excavate powder-buried pitches and deal with temperatures so low the ponies struggled to breathe. This time around, 400 truck-loads of snow were dug out of the arena before the evening matches, lit by huge helium-filled lanterns, could start.
Meanwhile a construction crew wrestled with an intriguing stack of shipping containers, timber and tarpaulins that would, the following night, be the Alpine Soul Kitchen, a pop-up, 200-capacity nightclub that could have beamed down from either London’s Hoxton or Zurich West’s hip industrial zone. The club was the centrepiece of Altitude, a one-day music festival that accompanied the polo for the first time, a clear signal of the event’s desire to stand out from more corporate tournaments and share the rarefied thrills of the “sport of kings” with a wider audience.
The emergence of a music festival in the quiet, traditional village of Klosters is symptomatic of a trend that has spread across the Alps in recent years. Inspired by the success of Snowbombing in Mayrhofen, which is now in its 13th year and attracts an audience of 5,000 and musicians such as Fatboy Slim and Dizzee Rascal, high-altitude music festivals have sprung up in numerous resorts, often being scheduled to fill hotels in what are usually the quietest weeks of the season.
Klosters Snow Polo enlisted the help of Dan O’Neill, a consultant for east London’s annual Lovebox festival, to book acts, including Duran Duran as headliners. After a performance by Swiss band Pegasus the clouds cleared for the first time in days and the world-conquering Brummies fired out a hit-packed 90-minute set which had the crowd in the sold-out, 2,000-capacity marquee dancing like teenagers (despite an average age closer to 45).
Next came another new fixture, a charity polo game and gala dinner in aid of Prince Harry’s South African youth and HIV/Aids charity, Sentebale. More British rock royalty joined the party in the form of the charity’s representative Annie Lennox, who made a conscience-stirring speech before guests.
“We put on a high-end event but it’s not a manufactured marketing gig that turns up and invades the village,” says Celeste Neill, the event’s co-organiser. “It’s open to everyone, it’s relaxed, and we improvise quite a lot of it – Annie had to wait to make her speech while we went off and found her a box to stand on.”
Later Brighton-based DJs Andy Singh and Andy McKirdy traded Motown- and Stax-inspired tracks in the Alpine Soul Kitchen, while guests danced around a bucket catching drips from the venue’s one last unresolved leak.
Rupert Mellor was a guest of Swiss (swiss.com; returns from London City to Zurich from £126); the Switzerland Travel Centre (www.stc.co.uk; returns by rail from Zurich to Klosters from £95) and the Turmhotel Victoria (www.victoria-davos.ch; doubles from SFr300). For details of next year’s event see www.klosterspolo.com