By Merisa Sherman
When they were married, a woman told her husband that they could share anything and everything in their lives just so long as he promised never to look in one particular drawer. Of course, the man began to imagine all kinds of things being stored in this drawer: from notes from a lover to pieces of a dead body. As their marriage went on, he would ask her to just let him take a peek into this drawer but she never broke. It was her private space, she explained. And could he please give her this one thing? When she passed away, the first thing the man did was open the drawer to her secret life.
It was filled with pompom hats. So many different styles and sizes and colors popped out of the drawer, so stuffed in because of the collection she had amassed over the years. The husband was stunned and burst out laughing, recognizing so many of the hats from their life together. Each hat was almost a memory — she had worn this hat on their honeymoon, this one had been for a ski vacation to Europe. There was their life, a story told in pompom hats. And man, did he laugh. A full laugh, from his belly with the love for his wife pouring out with each shake of his body.
As far as I remember I got my first pompom hat when I was about 6 or 7 and we went on a family trip out West somewhere. It was a pale yellow with some pink horizontal flowery stripes very well spaced out and a pale pink pompom that was just about the size of my little head. It might have even been larger. It was the early ’80s and pastels ruled the fashion world. My entire outfit was a bold statement of solid pale pink and I have no idea to this day how my mother kept it clean. For some insane reason, I had decided to collect pins from each ski area we visited and had attached them to this already ridiculous pompom hat. I loved it.
By the late ’80s, my pompoms were neon with the most hideous knit patterns imaginable. In the ’90s, my pompoms were bold, matching the blue and purple blocking of my super fashionable Descente jackets. As I got faster and joined the Killington Ski Team, I switched to those tiny Swix nordic pompoms with complicated fair isle patterns in the knitting. My favorite was red and white. By the 2000s, I kept the complicated patterns but switched to green, which landed me on the cover of the Pico Trail Map. To me, pompoms and skiing were intertwined. How could you do one without the other?
Freya, the Norse goddess of War, was seen wearing a pompom in the late 9th Century and French sailors were still using pompoms to protect their heads from the beams of the ship in the 15th. In fact, the original term is pompon, a French word for little bobble thing. The Scots have been wearing pompoms on their tammies (Tam O’Shanter) since the end of the 16th Century. Many people wear a pompon hat to navigate their smaller spaces, like their attics or basements. The pompom has been used by both military and religious organizations to designate rank and during the Great Depression, pompoms were the cheap and easy way to dress up any outfit.
Since the Vikings were already wearing pompoms on ships, it’s no big stretch to imagine that they also wore them while they were inventing skiing and worshiping Ullr, the god of snow. Perhaps they used those pompoms to protect themselves from tree branches as they skied around, just like they would have from big wooden beams in their homes and on ships. In my mind, the pompom could actually be the original ski hat.
I have a box of pompoms that is overflowing with love and memories, but I keep my three current favorites on pillar candles so they can dry out overnight. Because yes, I still wear a pompom hat when I ski. I’ve switched back to the big, bold poms of my childhood. I’m known as Coach PomPom to my athletes and they can spot me half a trail away.
Right now, I’m obsessed with my light purple AllieCap with a big brown pom. It does exactly what it was designed to do 14 centuries ago — it protects me from low hanging branches when I ski in the woods and makes me feel like a ski princess. My pompom hats are a representation of me, from the knit work to the pom itself, each hat telling a story of my life. Put them together, you have the “Tales from a Female Ski Bum.”
Merisa Sherman is a long time Killington resident, KMS coach and local Realtor. She can be reached at [email protected]