Howelsen Hill's nearly 50-year-old poma lift to be refurbished this summer |

Howelsen Hill’s nearly 50-year-old poma lift to be refurbished this summer

A Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skier rides the Poma lift at Howelsen Hill in 2011. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Imagine clenching the poma without falling off the lift on the way to the top of Howelsen Hill.

While that’s no guarantee, an update to the poma will allow lift operators to send skiers up the hill at faster or slower speeds, making it easier for beginner skiers and riders.

“Hopefully, it will be easier to load going forward, being able to slow it down,” Howelsen Ski and Rodeo Complex Manager Brad Setter said. “It’ll also have a slow button on it, which it currently does not. It only has one speed, which is fairly fast for beginners.”

The poma pulls skiers up the mountain every day Howelsen Hill Ski Area is open. The Barrows chairlift runs only on Saturdays and Sundays.

The poma lift will get an update this summer, replacing dated mechanical equipment that is difficult or impossible to service. The poma was installed in 1970, according to a story by Routt County rancher Bill Fetcher on

“This is to make sure the lift is functional for the next 20 to 30 years,” Setter said.

Starting in mid-May, the lift’s drive system and gearbox will be replaced. The project is scheduled to be completed before next ski season, and the repairs are not expected to impact park users.

It’ll cost a bit less than $150,000, Setter said, though the city is still working through final numbers.

If either of these two elements malfunctioned, the city would have to “create a new gearbox from scratch” or, in the case of the drive system, replace the entire system or find someone who could work on the old, nearly obsolete equipment, Setter said.

He said the city can repair other mechanical wear and tear on the lift, but “it’s this electrical system that controls how the lift works. Getting that replaced really brings us up to a modern lift.”

Along with being more easily repaired, the new drive system will allow lifties to control the speed of the poma. This will allow a higher capacity on the lift when athletes, who are typically more experienced poma riders, are practicing or competing at the historic ski area.

“We’re looking at a variable frequency drive, which will be a modern drive that anyone can work on, essentially, that has different speeds,” Setter said. “We would be able to do a faster speed for a ski race, for instance, and a slower speed for a Ski Free Sunday type of crowd.”

The city is still exploring replacing the Barrows chairlift on the east side of the ski area.

“The Barrows lift is running fine today,” Setter said. “We don’t expect too many problems from spring runoff, unless we have a major slide. We’ve got enough adjustment in there if it moves a little bit to be able to run it this summer and, hopefully, next winter.”

In spring 2019 and 2020, the city will pay close attention to a proposed alignment for a new lift to see if the ground shifts in spots where towers would be located.

The city has also received cost quotes on the installation from ski lift manufacturers.

“If it continues to move forward, it wouldn’t be (constructed) until summer 2020,” Setter said.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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