Skiing: Poles Yea or Nay?

“If poles were so important we’d call it Poling instead of Skiing” 
~ Phil Mahre

The ski area at which I am a ski patroller is a tiny hill, maybe 100 feet of vertical or so, and strictly rope tows. This season, I’ve been scratching my head at how many people ski with poles there (the rental package comes with the option of poles, which most people opt for). The poles, especially for the beginners, are a real struggle while going up the rope tows and don’t serve much purpose that I can see, at least on our hill. This got me to thinking: Poles Yea or Nay? (I don’t ski with poles.)

Skiing: Poles Yea or Nay?

So why do people actually ski with poles? Because it’s tradition? Because the pros do?

Some uses for poles while skiing:

  • balance;
  • timing;
  • to push on flat terrain;
  • to release the bindings;
  • as protection from trees or, if racing, gates;
  • as noisemakers to attract attention.
Not a long list, though I’m sure there are many more I haven’t thought of yet. Still, not many reasons to use them if you don’t have to. Except for protection, skiers can do everything on my list without poles. In fact, poles are usually a hindrance to everyone but the advanced skier, as many people rely on them as crutches and don’t develop proper technique. There is a reason ski schools don’t let people start with poles, right?

After my first few times during training and subsequent days on the hill, I ditched the poles and started focusing on my form without using these aids. I had a lot of unlearning to do in the first place, as 30 years ago (about how long I’d been out of skiing), the skis had radically changed and so had technique. No more parallel skiing with long, straight skis, skidding through turns. Today’s skis are made to carve, if you let them. I’m still at best a beginning Intermediate skier (our hill just doesn’t give me the variety to get much better), but I’m proud of my improvement nonetheless. 

Coming up, our annual family trip to Breckenridge, which will pose some interesting opportunities to ski without poles (or with them). I’m confident that, on the green and blue runs (beginner and intermediate), poles will be unnecessary, but part of the trip is about pushing my limits. I doubt that I’ll be hitting the bumps, but will go up to the expert terrain and see how it goes.

Poles at our little hill seem pointless to me – they get in the way and slow down the learning possible. If I continued using my poles, as an example, my skate skiing across flat terrain would have remained nonexistent, Now, however, I’m pretty comfortable scooting across and barely miss the poles. Without poles, I’ve had to focus on my skiing on my whole body, rather than relying on my poles to do the work. All good things.

What about you?
If you’re a skier, do you ever ski without poles?
When are they “mandatory?”

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2 thoughts on “Skiing: Poles Yea or Nay?

  1. When I learned to ski, I assumed all skiers used poles. Until I learned otherwise and realized how unnecessary they are. I do just fine without them. Can't believe your Breck trip is coming up again already. Seems like you were just there.

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  2. I definitely like that my kids are learning without poles… focus on fundamentals. However, when I got instruction on how to refine my technique, they traditionally place a lot of emphasis on the pole plant as part of a proper technical turn; sure, I'm not *really* doing anything on the pole plant, but without the pole in my hand, I wouldn't execute the turn properly.

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