There is a lot of information about the different types of skis available, but what are ski poles for? Are they just for helping you get back up after you have fallen? Or is their use underestimated?
In this article, we will go into all the details associated with ski poles, how to use them, what they are for, and how to buy them.
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- What Are Ski Poles?
- Do All Skiers Use Ski Poles?
- How Do Ski Poles Benefit Skiers?
- How To Choose Ski Poles
- How To Pole Plant?
- The Pole Plant Sequence
- Bad Habits You Should Avoid When Pole Planting
- How To Improve Your Pole Plants?
- Now You Know What Ski Poles Are For & How To Use Them
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Ski poles are lengths of aluminum or other lightweight material that skiers use to help them balance, get into a rhythm, and time their turns.
They have a handle at the top, often with a wrist strap, and a “basket” at the bottom, just before the point. The basket is a piece of plastic that spreads the weight of the skier’s pressure over a wider surface area, stopping the pole from sinking into the snow.
Ski pole baskets come in various sizes to suit the type of skiing you do and the snow conditions. But most people just stick with the standard basket that comes with the pole.
Not all skiers use ski poles. For example, a ski jumper doesn’t need them, and some carving skiers opt not to use ski poles.
Most beginners start off without using ski poles. This is because when you are a novice skier, you ski at slower speeds, so you don’t need to plant a pole during your turns.
Instead, you just transfer your weight from one ski to the other to initiate your turns. Also, not having ski poles as a beginner means you have less to think about.
As a beginner skier, you need to focus on balance. Once you become more confident and skilled, your instructor will teach you about timing pole plants for faster and more controlled turns.
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Ski poles act as a third point of contact with the snow during your turns. If you skied without poles, you might become unstable, as you will find that only one ski is in contact with the snow on occasion. The extra point of contact from the pole will give you the stability to stay upright.
In addition to this, planting your ski pole helps your forward motion, making a difference in how you time your turns. When you plant your pole correctly, you can establish a rhythm for your series of turns.
Pole plants are used by all levels of skier, and how they are used can set intermediate and advanced skiers apart.
Other benefits of ski poles include using them to help you get up off the snow after a fall, as a brake while standing on the slope, and to push yourself along on flat sections. You will even use your ski poles to bang snow off your boots before clipping into your bindings.
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To be able to use your ski poles properly, you need to make sure you get the right ones for you. They may just look like sticks, but there are specific characteristics you need to know about so you can buy suitable ski poles.
It is challenging to plant a ski pole correctly if it is too long or too short. Therefore, the timing of your turns can be compromised, preventing you from getting into a rhythm.
When you go to a ski shop, take a ski pole and flip it upside down, so the handle is touching the floor. Hold the ski pole just below the basket.
You will know if the ski pole is the correct size if your elbow is at 90 degrees at a right angle. Keep using this test with several ski poles until you get the 90-degree bend in your elbow.
If you find that you are between sizes, choose the shorter option.
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You can buy ski poles for different types of skiing and terrain. If you are a beginner skier, you will just need a regular pair of ski poles.
But more advanced skiers will benefit from more specialized ski poles. Intermediate and advanced skiers come across more varied terrain as they have the ability to explore the mountain more.
Different ski poles are more suited to specific types of terrain and snow conditions. For example, if you are a freestyle skier, you would benefit from using shorter poles.
Ski poles usually vary by 2″, so freestyle skiers tend to choose a size smaller than they would for alpine skiing. Shorter skis prevent them from catching their poles of halfpipes, jumps, and other park features.
If you want to head into the backcountry, you will also benefit from shorter ski poles. This is so you are less likely to catch your poles on trees and rocks as you ski.
Skiers who spend all their time in the resort on the groomers should stick to the standard size poles. These will give you the most versatility for resort skiing. This is the same story for mogul skiing, as you can time your turns much easier with standard-sized ski poles.
Ski tourers tend to use adjustable ski poles. This is because they benefit from long poles while hiking but need shorter ones for descending.
Adjustable ski poles are telescopic, so you can change them to the optimum length for whatever you are doing.
If you have ever watched ski racing, you will notice that the racers use curved poles. The curve allows the racer to get the poles closer to their body, creating a more aerodynamic shape.
Race ski poles are also made from a lightweight material, so the racer’s motion is not compromised when they need to make quick changes.
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Ski poles are mainly made from three types of material. You will see ski poles made from carbon, aluminum, and composite material.
Which ski pole material you choose will be dictated by a few elements.
Most ski poles are made from aluminum. Ski pole manufacturers choose aluminum for its strength, durability, and affordability. However, there is a wide spread when it comes to the cost of aluminum ski poles.
Carbon ski poles are more expensive, so you need to be prepared to spend more money if you want them. But these poles are thin, lightweight, strong, and flexible. They will last longer than aluminum poles, but you will want to keep a watchful eye on them when you go for aprés drinks.
Composite ski poles are constructed from different blends of plastics and metals. They perform better than aluminum or carbon ski poles in certain situations. Thanks to their superior shock-absorbing properties, they really shine on hard-packed snow and in the backcountry.
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Ski pole grips vary quite a lot, but this wide choice means you can pick the best ones for you.
When choosing ski pole grips, the primary thing you need to think about is if you wear mittens or gloves. This is because some ski pole grips have molded grooves for gloved fingers to fit into. But other ski pole grips are smooth, making them a better choice for mitten wearers.
You will notice that ski pole grips come in different sizes too. The size differences are usually due to the type of ski pole and who it’s for.
Ski pole grips designed for men are usually larger and longer than those intended for kids or women.
Most ski poles use basic loop straps that slip over your wrist. But you can buy ski poles with more high-tech straps.
When skiing on the resort’s slopes, you should always use wrist straps, as your poles will stay close to you when you fall. You can slip them off easily when you get on the chairlift.
The higher-end ski poles have fancy straps that have a quick-release mechanism. This is for those who ski in the backcountry or racers, as you can often get in situations where the poles are best to be as far away from you as possible.
Most backcountry skiers simply cut the straps off their ski poles as a safety measure.
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Ski pole baskets can make a surprising difference in how well a ski pole performs. As we mentioned before, the basket stops the pole from going too deep into the snow, which gives the skier something to push off from.
You can choose different sized baskets to suit your style of skiing and the terrain.
The majority of ski poles used for alpine and downhill skiing are fitted with small baskets. This is because the snow is pretty well compacted and not that deep. Small ski pole baskets also mean your poles are less bulky and lighter, making your skiing much more manageable.
Ski racers also use small ski pole baskets, but they are much smaller than regular ones. This is to help with their aerodynamics, as they have less wind resistance, allowing them to squeeze even more speed out during their run.
However, if you are skiing in powder, you will benefit from larger baskets. The larger surface area prevents the pole from penetrating the snow too much, giving you more purchase.
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The first thing you need to think about is your arm position.
To get the perfect ski pole position, stretch your arms out in front of your body, then bend your elbows slightly. Your arms should form a slight “O” shape, almost like you are going to hug someone.
Now draw an imaginary line between your shoulder and your wrist. If you have the correct arm position, your elbow should be on the outside of the line.
You know if your arms are correctly positioned, if your hands are holding behind you, your elbows are tucked in, or your hands are above your shoulder line.
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It is critical to learn how to time your pole plants. If you don’t manage to do this, your skiing will suffer, and you won’t have the progression you are looking for.
You need to plant your inside pole in the snow before you change edges and start your turn. The action of planting your pole is your cue to shift your weight and initiate your turn.
If you get late to pole your plant, your pole can push out on the side rather than backward in the middle of the turn. If you plant your ski pole too early, it will move to your inner ski and may even hit it.
Don’t plant your pole into the snow too hard. It isn’t supposed to penetrate the snow; it is just supposed to touch it to guide you around the turn.
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You plant the pole on the inner side of the turn. This means if you are turning left, you plant your left-hand ski pole and your right one for turning right.
Most skiers will plant their pole just before making the turn as they traverse the mountain. Here is the full sequence you need to follow:
Traverse across the slope with your arms in front but with your poles training at around 45 degrees behind you. Your body should be slightly facing down the hill.
Make sure your weight is evenly distributed on your skis and move your inner arm forward. This will bring your ski pole into a vertical position or slightly pointing forwards, ready for your pole plant.
Just as you start to go onto the other edges of your skis, gently plant your pole as you initiate the turn. You should plant it in front and to the side of the downhill ski. Remember to not put any weight into the pole, and it should be no further back than the first 25% of your ski.
You will naturally hit the pole gently behind you due to your momentum. You should anticipate this and just let it happen, don’t resist this critical element of your pole plant.
As the pole flicks off the snow, it will go behind you. But you need to keep both arms raised, ready to follow the same series but in the opposite direction. This will allow you to link turns with rhythm.
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It is easy to get into bad habits in all aspects of your skiing technique. Once you get better and more experienced, you will be able to spot other skiers with bad habits.
But here are some things you should be mindful of so you don’t fall into bad habits with your pole planting.
One of the worst bad habits skiers pick up is hanging their hands low by their sides. This laziness means that they mistime their pole plants and do not effectively use their poles during their turns.
When they do this, they are just carrying their poles and not taking advantage of them.
To avoid this, consciously hold your hands in front of your body. Remember to keep the hugging position we discussed earlier, with your elbows slightly out.
This hand position will allow you to plant the pole correctly, in time, so everything comes together.
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Lots of skiers tend to exaggerate their moves. They often flail their ski poles around in a flamboyant manner.
There are a couple of problems with doing this. Firstly you can risk hitting someone with your ski poles. Still, the main issue for you is that moving excessively compromises your control, making it harder for you to ski.
You will often see skiers whizzing along with their ski pole straps flailing in the wind. This indicates that they have not put the straps around their wrists properly.
Of course, you can lose your poles in a fall, but they actually make a difference to your control, especially during pole planting.
With your straps secure around your hands and wrists, you have enough tension to properly plat your poles. But, you can also injure yourself if your thumb gets caught in the strap.
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There is no substitute for improving your skiing technique than booking a lesson with a ski instructor. An instructor will refresh you with the correct techniques for pole plants, so you can get real-time instructions.
But an instructor can film you to show you where you are going wrong with your pole planting. A video will give you an outsider’s view of where your hands are, what they are doing, and how you initiate your turns.
You may be surprised at how little you use your poles when you see yourself on a video. This is because most skiers concentrate on what they do with their lower body and totally forget about their upper body.
Once you have had a ski lesson, you need to practice the correct technique. Go to a blue run that you are comfortable with, and practice your turns, paying attention to your pole planting.
Once you feel more comfortable, try to get into a rhythm and count the beats out in your head. Plant your pole on each beat all the way down the slope.
By practicing on a slope you are comfortable with, you won’t pick up too much speed for your ability. This is important to allow you to focus on improving your pole plants.
As you start to progress, you will notice that you can move over the front of your ski boots, making your skiing more agile and with more control.
This is when you should start to increase your speed. You do this with longer turns while carving.
If you want to see how the pros do it, check out videos of mogul skiers. Their pole planting technique is the best due to their body and hand position while making quick-fire and rhythmic turns down the mogul field.
Mogul skiers keep their upper body completely still while they plant their poles on the top of the next mogul. You can practice a similar technique on a bumpy run, as it will force you into a rhythm rather than you deciding on the timing.
Just like other aspects of skiing, you need to make pole planting second nature to become a great skier. But this comes with practice, so it is something you need to spend time doing.
As you can see, ski poles are essential pieces of equipment for a skier. They are practical but also necessary for skiers to utilize the correct techniques.