Look, quick! Too late, it’s gone.
Such is the existence of any mid-winter quality, perfect powder days this time of year, especially given this season’s great start and elevated expectations, but followed by poor execution with a dearth of precipitation.
With only a few days between a dumping of fresh powder and a forecast of temps of almost 80, when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.
(Which I did at the Chevron station in Rancho Murieta, on my way up the hill to Kirkwood last week. You kids wait; for every year past 50, I think your bladder shrinks in size by two percent. Given that I’m on the far side of 60, if you ride in the car with me and you get thirsty, don’t grab that bottle of liquid that only looks like apple juice!)
The ski slopes at Kirkwood greeted me with over a foot of new snow, a beautiful bluebird day and no crowds. Occasionally, I do get lucky.
After connecting with my ski buddy, Keith, we followed the insider’s protocol by heading over to the backside, and Chair 4, the infamously slow quad chairlift.
Given my “glass half-full” attitude on life, as credited to me in an email (which I have yet to erase from my cell phone) from Tim Cahill—not to be a name dropper; o.k. yes, to be a name dropper—I take advantage of those long lift rides to rest my legs and relax my back; the former by use of the safety bar with foot rest, the latter by use of my always handy Rumple Minze-filled flask.
We decided to ski across the ridge to the two poma surface lifts that give access to some great terrain, formerly requiring a hike up the hill. Many of you may be totally unfamiliar with what a poma lift even is.
Wikipedia defines these as,
“A surface lift is a type of cable transportation system used to transport skiers and snowboarders where riders remain on the ground as they are pulled uphill.”
“Surface lifts have the advantage of being less intimidating, especially for beginners: the speed is slow, they are usually situated on beginner terrain, and remaining on the ground is perceived to be more controlled than off the ground.”
The term lift is somewhat of a misnomer, as in the only thing that gets lifted is your arms from your shoulder sockets as you grab the moving cable, which careens by while you are standing there in a stationary position. That Wikipedia states “the speed is slow,” may be true once you are “one with the cable,” but not so much as you stand there, waiting to grab hold.
Let me be clear. You do not sit on this so-called ski lift, as you would on a chair lift. The poma will have something to sit against, such as a disk connected to the cable with a steel rod, and you get pulled along with your skis or snowboard sliding along the often rutted, uneven, and bumpy snow surface—hence the name surface lift.
As you get pulled up the slope, you cling onto the cable as you lean against that pseudo seat, praying that you won’t become separated en route.
Coming off whatever style of butt-rest on the particular poma you are attempting provides you two choices. The first being, you can hold on and be drug along—imagine a water skier not willing to let go of a tow rope, but in this case, the outer layers of your face are being scraped off as you are being drug over the hard frozen ground.
Your second choice is to let go completely, and then pull yourself out of the frozen rut and poma path, and get out of the way of the person being pulled up, coming up right behind you.
I am glad that Wikipedia says they are usually on beginner terrain; this is not always the case.
I used to ski at a small community college-run ski hill in northeast California, called Coppervale, which operated using only a poma to get up to the top. This surface lift happened to run up on the steepest part of the entire area, often on a hard-packed, icy groove, along towering (at least to us novices) moguls.
Becoming separated from the poma meant first trying to pull yourself, with your body on the ground rigidly connected to your skis, out and away from the groove, as you wait for the sharpened steel-edged skis of the next rider coming up the hill.
Your next challenge was that you then had to get down the “face” ski run, named as the most likely part of your body that would be bouncing on those hard packed, frozen moguls, until you slide into the small ski shack at the bottom of the hill.
Thankfully, as you can see in the picture, the pomas at Kirkwood are on relatively benign slopes.
That is, as long as you are able to keep that metal rod firmly planted between your legs.