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By Bill Fetcher
In 1953 a new ski area with a new type of lift opened, Arapahoe Basin
with the country’s first Pomalift. Named for its French inventor Jean
Pomagalski, the platter, disc or simply “poma” lift would, like other sound
ideas, make an impact and leave a mark on ski areas throughout the
nation. Other manufacturers now offer platter lifts; meanwhile Poma has
gone on to market chairlifts and gondolas.
The Pomalift, at the time of its introduction, offered several advantages
over other types of lifts. They could cover more ground than a rope tow
and were safer. Depending on type (to be covered later) they offered
reasonably high capacity. And they were cheap, cheaper than T-bars or
chairlifts. They could be installed cheaply as well, doubled up, overlapped,
doglegged, whatever it took to cover a good size ski area. In this way a
fledgling area like A-Basin could get in on the ground floor at a modest
The Poma’s improved safely margin comes from the design of its tow-
bars, tipped with a plastic disc which is placed between the legs. Should a
skier fall, the tow-bar can be released easily. Other following skiers can
usually steer around the fallen skier until he or she can get out of the tow-
track, or the lift is stopped. While there have been injuries involving
Pomalifts, the risk of entanglement, a problem with rope tows and T-bars
is greatly reduced.
Pomas are of two types, like their chairlift counterparts, fixed-grip and
detachable. The fixed-grip type has circulating tow-bars moving at slow
speeds making them suitable for beginner’s areas. For the more thrill-
seeking skier the high-speed detachable, or “slingshot” Poma is the way to
go. Tow-bars are stored in a rack and released onto the cable on
demand, either by an attendant or by the skier tripping a wand, much like
a racer leaving a starting gate.
My hometown of Steamboat Springs offers three typical examples of
Pomalift installations. The Steamboat Ski Area’s very first lift was a Poma
that began operation 22 December 1961. It served the Headwall beginner’
s area till 1979 when the Southface triple-chair replaced it. In 1970 a
Poma replaced the outmoded and unsafe T-bar on Howelsen Hill where it
continues in use. Also that year when Steamboat’s first gondola opened, a
Poma was built from the top of the Four Points chairlift to the summit of
Storm Peak, serving Buddy’s Run and the face of Storm Peak. It was
removed in 1983 when the Storm Peak triple-chair was installed.
These three examples; starting a new area, replacing old equipment and
area expansion, all at less cost than installing chairlifts illustrate what the
Poma was able to do well. As seen above, large areas would later replace
their Pomas with chairlifts as budgets allowed, selling them to smaller
areas, some of which unfortunately would go out of business. As a result
of this attrition there are fewer Pomas left running in the state. A few areas
have held on to them where they provide back-up service when needed
or to serve difficult terrain for which there is little skier demand to justify a
chairlift. The Pomalift continues to be a challenge for the skier who’s had
little experience with riding a surface lift of any kind.
|A fixed Doppelmayr platter at Beaver
|A detachable Heron-Poma platter lift at
|An old fixed platter at Sipapu.
|A Stadeli platter at Ski Rio, NM.