What do you do with ski poles ?

A regular question in our skiing forum is the one about ski poles. People want to know what they are used for and how do you know a good pair from a bad pair. Whether you are renting poles on your holiday, or you want to buy some, our tips below should give you a better understanding of what the difference a good set of poles will add to your skiing experience.

Using ski poles

We know they are handy for getting our of your bindings, when you press down on the latch with them, and they do a great job at slapping the snow off your ski boots. But what are they really used for ? Depending on your level of experience they may be an actual useful part of your ski equipment that will make your trip down the piste more enjoyable or they will be just some extra weight to carry around with you all day.

Another popular use for ski poles for beginners is an aid for getting back onto your feet after a fall. But did you know that they are supposed to be used for balance ? However you are not supposed to lean on them excessively, rather your balance should come from your legs and abdominal muscles. When you are skiing with poles you plant them as you are starting your turn, so called “pole planting“. You plant the pole on the side you are turning, so turning right you plant the right one. Remember to only plant one at the time ! It’s not necessary to raise your pole high in the air in order to jam it into the ground, rather simply bring it in front of you and place it into the snow. Once your pole is planted you turn or pivot around it.

To correctly use ski poles isn’t a trivial skill to learn. In fact many instructors tell beginners to practise first without them, in order to focus more on feet positions in turns.

Picking a pair ski poles

Top skiers will pay up to around €150 for a pair of good, sturdy and light poles, but you can get a pair of Scott, K2, Leki, Goode ski poles from between €30 & €80. They are made of various types of material from aluminium to graphite to carbon fibre, and depending on the material you will notice weight and sadly price. Once you have picked set of poles you will need to make sure they are the right size for you.

Nowadays “telescoping” poles are quite popular, these are poles whose height can be adjusted. This feature is handy for younger skiers who are growing fast and for those of you who are generous and would like to share your poles. One last tip for telescoping is that they can be easily packed into your luggage and take up less space.

To get the right size for your pole perform the following steps :

  1. Turn your pole upside down and grab it just underneath the basket (the basket is the little plastic bit that cushions the pole to give more resistance when it hits the snow)
  2. Touch the pole against the ground, holding your arm straight in front of you.
  3. If your arm is parallel to the ground then you have the right sized pole. If not adjust the pole accordingly.

Picking the right sized pole is important.  If you have ones that are too long you will be pushed back on your heel during turns which will make things quite difficult for you. On the other hand if they are too small, you will be hunched over when you try to plant your poles which can lead to sore back at the end of the day.