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Why do we really need ski poles?

By Kimberlee Hutcherson
SUN columnist

So, what are these sticks for, anyway? Well, first off, they’re not sticks, they’re ski poles.

OK. Now that we got that settled, why do we really need ski poles?

Actually, there are many uses for them. Some right and some wrong. Often I see skiers with their hands dropped by their sides, which leaves the poles dragging behind or they will have the poles in a death grip, clutched to their chest. Neither of these choices are good. If your hands are dropped by your sides, chances are your center of mass will be slightly back causing your balance to be off. If you have your hands gripped firmly to your chest, you are probably too tense and, again, it’s a balance issue. Instead, your hands should be up near waist level, positioned in front of the body. Elbows and forearms positioned away from the body. Now you are balanced and ready for action.

The most common use for the poles is, of course, to propel us around the flat areas, but a more important use is to help initiate the new turn and actively carry energy from turn to turn. When you extend to start the new turn, your pole will swing and touch the snow to the side and slightly ahead of the boots. This is a great connecting link between turns.

Think of your poles as an extension of your arms. When you touch your pole to the snow, it gives a sensation that carries up through the arm and into the body. There’s another point of contact on the snow, which translates to more stability. Stabilizing our upper body while our legs are moving actively and independently is critical to good skiing. The rhythm and timing of the pole touch will start to happen naturally as you practice. A well-timed pole swing keeps our body perpendicular over the skis and moving in the direction of the new turn.

Make sure you have the proper length of poles by turning the ski pole upside down and resting the handle on the floor. Now grab the pole just under the basket. Your forearm should be at a 90-degree angle to the pole. A good ski pole is light weight but very durable, has a comfortable hand grip and adjustable straps. The basket can vary in size. The larger the basket, the better for powder skiing; however, if you tend to primarily stay on groomers, you will be happier with a smaller basket because it won’t get in your way — at least that’s been my experience.

One final thought: Be sure to always pull your pole straps off your wrists before loading on the lift. I’ve seen some pretty nasty wrecks over the years from people trying to load and unload from the lifts with poles strapped on.

This story was posted on January 2, 2014.