Friday, 7 March 2008

The Poma Drag Lift

Also known as a button or platter lift depending what part of the world you are in, the Poma drag lift is a design classic of the Ski world.

I decided to write something of a tribute to these lifts because they are becoming rarer as more resorts upgrade to high speed detachable chairlifts. If they disappear completely they will be sadly missed, at least by me, although I suspect they will always have their place.

The Poma lift was invented in 1936 by a Polish immigrant (to France) named Jean Pomagalski. The first lift was installed at Alp D'Huez in France, and the Poma lift company has been building drag lifts to essentially the same design ever since. Although drag lifts existed previously (mostly rope tows powered by tractors or whatever was available), the Poma lift was the original detachable lift.

The big advantage of a detachable lift is that it can run a lot faster. In the case of the Poma, the button is stationary until the rider is ready, then it attached to the cable and accelerates up the hill. Poma lifts were by far the fastest lifts on the mountain until the advent of high speed detachable chairs in te early 80s (not counting trains and cable cars where you have to take your skis off). The modern high speed chairlifts carrying six or eight people were not introduced until the 90s.

Other than speed and nostalgia, a big reason I miss drag lifts as an instructor is that they actually help you to learn to ski. Ten minutes sitting on a chairlift teaches you nothing (unless the instructor is sat next to you explaining something). Ten minutes on a drag lift (although it's usually less with them being high speed lifts) is ten minutes balancing and sliding on your skis. You need to keep them parallel, steer to stay in the track and adjust your fore/aft and lateral balance to stay on your feet. In short it teaches you techniques that will lead you to parallel turns.

Many skiers these days do not encounter drag lifts until the day they really need to use one to get somewhere. Here, for example, you can get across to Pal without needing a drag lift until you try to come back. In the next post I will give a few pointers on using drag lifts, as well as the reasons for the rules they post on the pylons (no slaloming or getting off half way etc.) I'll leave you to admire the photo above, from the Poma website.

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