One of the more controversial questions in skiing recently has been whether to use poles. If you ever put on a skiing competition on TV you will see that professionals from all events have poles. But if you go to a ski resort you will see many skiers, especially kids, without them. So what should you do and what do poles, acting as extensions of our hands, really help with?
Even though most moves can be done without poles, you are not likely to meet an instructor who will advise against them. “They are a huge part a skier’s ability to balance,” Gates Lloyd from Arapahoe Basin in Colorado says. “In adults, if you take the poles away, they will start to feel disoriented.” Walking on ski as well as going uphill can be very difficult without them. Racers sometimes use them to touch the snow to stabilize the upper body.
A possible side effect of using poles is that you can become too reliant on them. That’s why it’s good to sometimes leave them at home and go back to basics.
Children – until they are 5 or 6 years old
Kids never start ski school with poles. “We want them to think about their feet and how they’d turn in each direction,” Lloyd says. It’s simpler to start teaching them without the poles, he adds, because it’s harder to get back up after they fall. “Schools give skids poles once they can control the ski and turn. Poles help with timing and rhythm,” Lloyd says.
So what about adults?
When people rely on poles too much
“Skiing without poles is a good idea only as a drill, as an exercise” Lloyd says, adding that leaving them behind for long is not recommended. Ski instructors take the poles away when they are about to ski easy slopes as a way to break any bad habits such as over-dependency. It slows progression.
When you don’t have the poles, your legs and hips are forced to do all the work. The body is forced to find the center of mass, which is how it should be positioned even when you have poles. If you put too much weight on one side, you’ll lose balance and fall. The poles can help you avoid that, but they won’t correct your position.
When people use them to stop
“Using the poles to try and stop is a clear signal that people have misunderstood how to use them,” Lloyd says. “Sticking the poles in the snow is a bad idea. If it becomes part of a pattern, I take the poles away.” The default setting in stopping and slowing down is J-shape. People turn the ski to the side and slightly up. “The worst idea is to use the poles to stop. It’s simply dangerous.”
When people think about they hands too much
“This is a common mistake,” Lloyd says. People drop their hands by the thighs and let their elbows get behind. “This is when the body center mass shifts and that’s not good,” he adds. Some skiers tend to hold their hands too high. This is not helpful either. Often people squeeze the handle of the pole too tight. “Then I ask them to lose the poles again and shake up.”
To focus on hand position
“The pole is a like a baton,” Lloyd says. “It keeps time.” Lose them for a drill.” If you press your hands to the body, then you only make your position worse, which results in poor balance. Looking down is also a bad idea but a lot of people make that mistake because the feel like they needs to see where the poles are hitting the snow. But looking down puts unnecessary pressure on your shoulders and back. Then a subtle pain settles in limiting your movements. Slightly bent hands should always in front of you. Don’t lower them or move them to the left or right when turning your body. “Imagine you’re riding a bicycle. Your hands are in front of you, a little wider than the shoulder. That’s where they should be generally.