“Where are we going to go next?” Sitting on the Sheer Bliss lift between my son and wife, I felt warmth from both the high-altitude sun and familial camaraderie. Two days since the last snow, everything was open, soft and cushy. The eastern edge of the Big Burn features open vistas, easy rolling terrain, and widely spaced maturing firs, re-populating the sub-alpine slopes after the fire, now 140 years ago. As we left the denser forest just below the Burn, the sun and snow opened everything up, pulling us higher and higher.
“Why don’t we take the Cirque lift up? Cody and I can ski down the Headwall, and you can take the High Traverse over to Green Cabin, go down, and meet us at the base of High Alpine.”
Cheryl seemed eager. “I love that – my two favorite spots!”
Cody grumbled a bit. His feet, with growing, painful bunions, have a tougher and tougher time squeezing into boots every year. But he loves to ski, and was trying to find the right combination of rest, effort, and buckle tightness to continue his addiction. The moguls in the run-out from the Cirque would not treat his feet kindly.
The Cirque lift is a “Poma”. That’s a word like “Xerox”, or “Kleenex”. Poma the number one manufacturer of platter pull lifts, along with standard chair lifts of all varieties. Platters are a one-person ride. An attendant holds a pole, waiting for the proper distance from the previous rider. At that point, the rider grabs the pole, trips a rod so the overhead cable grabs the pole with a jerk, and puts it between his legs. At the end is a disc, the platter, about the size of a pie tin. There’s an S-curve in the pole at hip level, to allow for a more comfortable fit. The rider leans back, resting his tail bone on the platter, and off he goes, his skis still gliding along the snow up hill.
The concept works great for skiers. Snowboarders, not so much. They’ve only got one plank to ride, and even if they free one leg from the binding, they still have to start the glide one-footed, then somehow swing the other leg around the pole and ride up sort of side-saddle. Boarders riding a Poma for the first time have a lot of physical coordination to figure out in a very short time, and a number of them fail the test, releasing the pole and falling off the side of the track. They have to go back and try again with the next pole coming around the bull wheel.
“That looks like a short line, I know” – maybe 15 or 20 people were queued up in the corral – “ but it’s probably a good 7 to 10 minute wait.”
“I haven’t done it yet this year, so it doesn’t really matter; I want to get up and see the view,” Cheryl responded.
“I never used to wait in line. I would wait up the hill a bit, and wait for a snowboarder to fall. I almost always got a pole within a couple of minutes.” Cody had spent a couple of winters here, skiing mostly by himself, exploring the nuances of the Headwall, East Wall, AMF, and Dikes – the “runs” flowing through the Cirque bowl.
“Isn’t that kind of hard?” Cheryl asked. “The pole’s whizzing along, and you’ve got to grab it as it goes by?”
“Yeah, well, I learned how to time it just right. It’s not that hard.”
We were nearing the top of the lift, the trees getting smaller and smaller, the sun getting brighter. Above the lift terminus, the upper tundra of Bald Mountain glared back at us.
“One time, right about here, I saw a guy fall off.” We neared the final tower, raised the safety bar, and jiggled around a bit to make sure nothing was caught on the chair. Cody finished up just before we off-loaded. “I raced off the lift, screamed over to the poma track, and caught the pole on the fly, while I was still moving across the slope. That was maybe the most fun I’ve had on that lift.”