Shelby Reardon: Humbled by the Howelsen poma lift
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — I am the type of person who reads mac and cheese instructions thrice, because I am convinced I’m going to mess up.
With that mindset, I knew I would find a way to embarrass myself on the poma lift at Howelsen Hill Ski Area. I would be the one otherwise-capable adult who would somehow not be able to get it.
I always do that, though. I’m nervous to try something new, but once I do it, I have no issues and love it.
I started the day on the chairlift. Sunday was my first Ski Free Sunday at Howelsen. The only other time I’d skied at the hill was on Opening Day of last season, so Sunday was my first true Howelsen experience.
We started the afternoon with a slow ride up the chairlift. I knew the top of the chairlift wasn’t the most convenient spot and that we’d have to shuffle uphill a bit, but it was steeper than I remembered. We had to ditch our skis and hike uphill for a minute to reach the top of the hill.
“Oh man,” I said. “We really are going to have to take the poma. I’m not doing that again.”
So, after our warm-up run down the face, we got in line for the poma.
“Do you know where to put your poles?” my boyfriend asked me.
“Under my armpit?” I guess.
“Hold onto both of them in one hand,” he said. “Reach back with the other and grab the bar.”
I watched as he executed the maneuver perfectly, gliding away with ease. I told the young boy in the other line to go ahead. I watched as he waddled over to the right spot, turned back, gracefully grabbed the pole, swiftly spun it in front of him, straddled it and sped off as it dragged him up the slopes.
I skedaddled to what I thought was the right spot, forced myself to muster all the hand-eye coordination I have, snagged the pole, pulled it in front of me and shimmied it into place. I jolted as it dragged me along the snow.
“I’m doing it!”
I knew I wasn’t in the clear yet, though. A third of the way up, there is a flat section followed by a steep section. The speed of the poma changed, and my skis threatened to lift from the snow. I clung to the pole with my thighs, which were already screaming from their first ski runs in a year.
A sign partway up the hill shows a witch riding the lift with the words, “Ride it like a broomstick.” No sign has ever been more helpful.
As we approached the top, I watched as others dipped the poma down a few inches, removed it from between the legs, lifted it gently and gracefully glided away.
After nailing the beginning of the lift, I knew I could stick the dismount as well. I pressed, lifted and released. No problem. I could officially ride the poma.
I found over the first few tries that the key is to keep your skis close but not too close. On the fourth ascent, they got too close. As my skis glided over the most miniscule change in terrain — a small bump — the tips crossed. I thought I could save it, but it’s hard to adjust the placement of skis while also clinging to the poma. After a few of the least graceful seconds of my life, I let go.
I tipped to my side and shimmied out of the way.
So this was the infamous feeling known as “poma trauma…”
The best way to fall off the poma is by accepting it and getting out of the way quickly rather than laying there in shame.
I was out of the way before my boyfriend came up behind me on the next pole. He was very happy to have gotten a front-row seat to my fall.
Going into Ski Free Sunday, I wasn’t sure how much terrain would be open, what the conditions would be like and how many people would be there. In short, I wasn’t sure if it would be enjoyable.
It was so much more fun that I could have imagined. The snow was great and there were no crowds, so the entire two-hour window was full of skiing rather than waiting in lines and avoiding others.
Howelsen Hill is a treasure and should be cherished and supported by locals. We are so lucky to have such an accessible and historic ski hill right downtown. And let’s be honest, you aren’t a real local yet until you’ve suffered from poma trauma.
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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