While riding the chairlift a few weeks ago, a snowboarder asked me why we use ski poles. It was a reasonable question from someone who maneuvers the slopes without them. “Holding ski poles helps with our position over the skis. We need to stay forward and keeping our hands in front of us keeps our weight forward. They are also used for timing turns and balance.” I felt I probably lost him after the first few words. Skiers may understand better what I attempted to explain.
Ski poles are an important accessory and their role is often misunderstood. Look around and you may see many skiers holding their poles but not actively engaging them in their skiing. To improve your skiing, you have to improve your pole use.
Keep your hands in front and up. Every ski instructor at one time has said “keep your hands like you are carrying a tray.” Whether this visual works or not I don’t know but you should be able to see your hands in front of you and of course to the sides. We know that if we get our weight back on the skis, a fall is likely. Hands forward equals weight forward.
For the recreational skier, the arm position while holding ski poles is open. Since poles are used to time our turns, our arms need to be open so we can reach forward to plant our pole and initiate the next turn.
Unless you are skiing deep powder, very steep terrain or moguls, the touch of the pole to the snow is relatively light. Initiated at the wrist, your poles plant is generally a quick and spry touch to the snow as you seamlessly transition your weight and turn.
Engaging your poles with your skiing will give you more flow and actually conserve your energy. Proper pole use keeps you balanced over your skis which leads to better skiing. By better I don’t just mean pretty. You are a safer skier with proper technique and being safe keeps you on the hill where we all want to be.
Finally, are you skiing with old poles? I was until I decided to go slightly shorter and that sent me to the ski shop. I came away with a sweet pair of SWIX composite ski poles. They are light but strong. Because they are light, it is easier to keep them up and in front of me where they belong. The “swing weight” (which refers to the pendulum like motion of the pole against your directional path) should be quick and springy. Until I got my new lighter poles, I didn’t realize how nice it is to have a pole so eager to please.
Next time you are skiing, take a run and concentrate on how you are using your poles. If you are being dragged down by older heavier poles, don’t hesitate to replace them with a newer, lighter model. You really will notice a difference.