Yes it really is 70 years since the first Poma lift was installed on slopes of the Eclose in the ski resort of l’Alpe d’Huez. The resort is situated in a vast sunny south-west facing bowl on the edge of the Grandes Rousses mountains. Originally summer pastures for the village of Huez, in 1911 a school teacher called Marie Müller from the village obtained a pair of skis and began to explore the area during the winter. By 1918 she was showing American soldiers around the area while they were waiting to be sent home.
The Eclose Lift in the 1930s
Towards the latter part of the 1920s the resort began to develop when the French Touring Club built a refuge in one of the alpine chalets. Georges Rajon, the son of the guardian would later become a president of the lift company. In 1928 the refuge opened for Christmas for the first time, with just five hardy guests, all from Paris. With a railhead at Bourg d’Oisans served by the VFD and a mule ride to the slopes skiers from nearby Grenoble and Lyon soon followed.
The real boom came in 1936. Joseph Paganon, member of parliament for the Isère department and minister of works gave the go-ahead for a spectacular 21 hairpin road from Bourg d’Oisans and l’Alpe d’Huez. A road that has since passed into Tour de France mythology. In the same year a Polish immigrant by the name of Jean Pomagalski bulit the first drag lift. Pomagalski was a champion oarsman in the coxless fours, favourite for the gold at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics but his team decided not to travel as the French Federation had refused to pay expenses.
Poma’s lift was on a long line on the slopes of the Eclose. It wasn’t the first drag lift in France, that title goes to a Constam lift built Megève in 1933 but it was the first modern tow and the birth of one of France’s industrial power-houses. By 1940 France had a total of 40 drag lifts and Poma had a worldwide patent on the design. The lift was run by a certain Madame Garnier, she asked a distant cousin, Pierre Montaz to work as a liftie. Pomagalski developed a friendship with Montaz and both men were involved in the local resistance movement. From his hut on the slopes of the Eclose Montaz was charged with noting the number and ranks of German soldiers. In 1944 Pomagalski asked Montaz to help finish the Lac Blanc drag which had been started by Armand Mourra back in ‘36. Montaz-Mautino, another big name in the French ski industry was born.
Some other resorts celebrating this winter:
Le Col du Porte - 70 years since Pierre Garin built the first drag lift on this road pass in the Chartreuse mountains. The resort is still owned and run by the family.
Le Collet d’Allevard - 50 years since the first lifts opened although skiing in the area dates back to the early part of the 20th century when Antoine Cros started the Allevard ski club.
Gresse en Vercors 40 years since the lifts opened.