When young kids start learning skiing, they are often told not to use their poles. This makes lots of sense because pole usage at an early age could create bad habits such as leaning back and standing upright. Yet this doesn’t necessarily mean that older children or adults should avoid using poles. If a piece of sports equipment has existed for a long time and been used by elite athletes, most likely there is a technical reason behind it.
Now let’s take a look at the function of ski poles (we will leave more detailed discussion of various types of pole usage to K-Learning).
Simply put, pole usage has two functions: (1) direct the movement of center of mass (CoM); and (2) add fluidity and subtlety. While most skiers know CoM movement is key to skiing, a major challenge is how to initiate this movement in a split second. Pole swing and pole touch/plant are useful in this regard because they help the skier move CoM diagonally down the hill and maintain pressure toward the tip of the skis. Moreover, correct pole usage could help the skier tip his/her skis to an appropriate angle and stabilize the upper body. These are all subtle movements in skiing; together subtleties help smoothen transition and create fluid skiing.
At a more advanced level, as the US Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) noted, too often learning proper pole usage is neglected in race training; this neglect in the long run will impede athlete development. While sometimes we have to use slow motion to see the almost invisible pole touch in a World Cup giant slalom (GS) race, if a racer could save .01 seconds in passing each gate by using poles properly, all together it means 0.5 to 0.6 seconds, big enough to determine who wins the race.
Every skier needs a toolbox. Don’t forget to put pole usage in it.