Poma Lifts: What Are They and How to Ride on Skis or Snowboard

Poma lifts are often popular in Europe when skiing but you may find a few in the U.S. They also go by the name of button ski lifts, and drag lifts. This one of a kind ski lift and lift ride can be intimidating for people new to it but once you get the hang of it, you’ll see how great it is. While many ride poma lifts correctly on their first try, we are going to explain how you should approach it both from a skiing and snowboarding perspective.

Once you learn how to ride a poma lift, it may be one of your favorite lifts on the ski slopes. Read on to get a lesson on how to use a poma/button/drag lift.

Skier riding Poma lift at ski resort.
Skier using a poma lift. Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik (Flickr CC)

What Are Poma Lifts?

Poma lifts are like a giant pogo stick if you were to step back and look at them. Essentially it is a long metal pole with a round disc that looks like the so-called “button”. Hence it also gets the name the button lift. This bar pulls you up the slope, so you’ll hear another group of people refer to the poma lift as a drag lift.

This pole connects to a metal loop that is driven uphill by an engine, just like any other ski lift you are familiar with.

So How is a Poma Lift Different From a T-Bar?

A more common ski lift in the U.S. and especially at terrain parks is the T-bar lift. While it is a similar hold and drag type ski lift, on the T-bar you can position your weight more towards the back. T-bars work best if you lean back while holding onto the bar, poma lifts are more vertical. You will want to avoid leaning back far on a poma.

They are both a dynamic ride up the slope.

The poma lift has some give and take as it bounces up and down sort of like a pogo stick. Skiers approach it more from and upright stance and do not lean back like a t-bar.

Snowboarders have to use the poma lift more similar to a t-bar and capture it’s drag by holding on or tucking the button under the front leg.

Why Are Poma Ski Lifts Called Poma Lifts?

While the poma lift is named for it’s founder, the company now produces chair lifts and gondolas as well. It has been a rapid expansion from the original poma lifts.

What Is A Button Ski Lift?

Some people know the poma lift as the button lift but they never knew it was called a poma.

A button lift is the same thing as a poma lift. It is the vertical metal bar with the disc at the end. One common misconception is that the button is for sitting on, it’s not.

We’ll touch on how to properly ride a poma lift in a minute but you should never be sitting on the button of a button ski lift.

How to Ride a Poma Lift on Skis

Skier showing how to ride a poma lift correctly.
Skier showing how to ride a poma lift. Photo Credit: Sherrymain (Flickr CC)

If you don’t follow the steps to riding a poma lift correctly then you can quickly end up on the ground or on your face. The approach to riding a poma lift is not the same for skis and snowboards so be sure to pay attention to the one you plan to be riding.

Step 1 – First you will approach the poma lift, clipped in on both skis and get a visual on the rotating poles. You’ll want an idea of the pole that you will be grabbing before you grab it.

Step 2 – Next, take off your wrist straps from your ski poles and keep them in your left hand if you are right handed. Vice versa for people who are left handed. You want your closest hand to the poma lift to be free.

Step 3 – Grab the pole, pull down and put the button between your legs while staying upright. Do not hunch over forward or lean back. The button is not a seat and you need to keep standing upright.

Step 4 – Keep your skis inline while riding up the hill and avoid crossing your tips.

Step 5 – Once you make it to the peak of the hill, you can let go of the poma pole. This should only be done on a flat area. To get the button out, lift down and pull it out from in between your legs.

Congrats, pat yourself on the back if you make it up the poma lift for the first time with no issues. If not, don’t fret and give it another go. You’ll quickly get the hang of button lifts.

What Are The Advantages to a Poma Lift?

If poma lifts aren’t often found in the U.S. then they must not be that great right? No. The t-bar has taken over the U.S. ski and snowboard scene for park riding but there are still some advantages to the poma lift.

Originally designed for skiers back in the day, the poma lift is a great option on the slopes for both skiers and snowboarders.

While the poma lift was originally designed for skiers, it is optimized to get them up a hill with little effort on the skiers part. It is a little less tiring than a T-bar since you tuck the button between your legs and then hold on.

Poma ski lifts are great for small resorts and large resorts. They are much cheaper to put in vs a traditional chairlift and are an easier way to provide access to new trails and terrain.

If you want to find a poma lift in the U.S. then your best bet is going to be smaller ski areas or resorts.

Tips for First Time Poma Riders

If we were riding the poma lift for the first time again then there are a few things we would look out for. Skiers need to be most aware to not lean back and try to sit on the button of a poma lift.

Snowboarders need to keep their board straight to avoid catching an edge.

Both skiers and snowboarders that are new to button lifts should take their time and wait for a pole. Don’t just grab the first one you see. Get yourself set and you’ll have better success riding the lift.

How to Ride a Poma Lift on Snowboard

Snowboarder using poma lift at ski resort.
Snowboard using a poma ski lift. Photo Credit: John M (Flickr CC)

Riding a poma lift on a snowboard is just a little bit different. Pay attention to these steps for a successful ride.

Step 1 – Approach the lift with your front foot strapped in the binding and skate up to the lift. If you have a stomp pad then rest your foot on it while you get a visual on the poma pole that you place to grab.

Step 2 – Keep your board with your tip pointed forward and your front foot forward. As the pole comes around that you want to grab, take the pole near the button with your free hand.

Step 3 – If you ride regular then your right hand will sit lower on the pole and your left hand will grab on higher. For goofy riders, the hand placement is reversed. You can tuck the button under your front leg and it won’t be as strenuous on the arms.

Step 4 – Stay in a good athletic stance with your knees bent as you travel up the hill.

Step 5 – Once you hit the flat area at the peak of the hill, you can release.

Avoiding To Fall When Riding a Poma Lift

The most common way that people fall when riding a poma lift is not being ready for the pole that is coming around, improper technique or not having their skis or snowboard lined uphill.

If you are calm and mentally present then you should be able to think through all the steps and execute. You’ll often see people rushing to grab poles and then falling because of it.

Just be smart and it goes a long way when riding a button lift.

Final Thoughts on Poma Ski Lifts

You may never see a poma ski lift in the U.S. unless you are riding a smaller ski area. They are certainly fun to try if you get the experience. No other ski lift is as dynamic and fluid as a poma lift.

If it is your first time riding a poma or button lift then see if you can’t get an experienced friend to take you. Otherwise you are much ahead of others if you learn the steps above on how to ride a poma lift before riding it!

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