Ski poles (“sticks” or “poles”) help develop your balance, accuracy, rhythm, timing, and support on the slopes. Without them, you’d likely spend a lot more time falling on the slopes than skiing.
So you need a firm understanding of these tools. Here’s how to use ski poles — properly!
Types of Poles
Ski poles design may appear simplistic, but it’s not! Racers, for instance, are more likely to use a uniquely shaped, lighter stick for faster speeds.
There are also telescoping poles. The length is adjustable for alpine descents or an uphill climb.
Without the right features, you’ll never learn to use a ski pole properly!
The basket’s primary purpose is to prevent poles from digging too deep into the snow, ensuring better maneuverability.
The basket, located near the bottom of the pole, has a design for (i) powder conditions or (ii) hardpack and groomed conditions.
The former requires a big basket while the latter utilizes a smaller one.
Choosing the right pole is going to make all the difference in the world. You have to consider length and one that works with your size. Too long or too short does you no good.
Hold the stick upside down with the grip touching the ground. Grip just below the basket. Your elbow needs to form a 90 degree (or right) angle.
If it’s near 90, go with a different pole. Should you find yourself between sizes, best you go with the shorter option. See my full guide on ski pole length for more info!
Novice skiers are fine with the average ski pole. It won’t be until you grow in the sport that you’ll understand why the type of pole matters.
More experienced skiers understand how terrain plays in choosing a pole!
Park or pipe skiers go with shorter poles. They downsize one inch to avoid their poles catching on park obstacles and halfpipe walls. Similarly, powder and backcountry skiers often also want shorter poles to help avoid catching them on trees and rocks.
The on-mountain trail skier likes to stick to alpine poles, the traditional 90-degree elbow angle. They supply the versatility you need for blue runs and on-piste steeps. Mogul skiers like alpine poles as it allows better timing on turns through bumps.
Touring skiers do a lot of hiking and skinning up and down mountains. The practice requires adjustable poles. The ability to switch back and forth makes ascending (long pole) and dissenting (short sticks) easier.
Racers like aerodynamics. They lean toward sticks that are lightweight and often curved.
When checking out grips, wear your glove or mitten of choice. Smooth grips are for mitten wearers. Grips with finger molds are for those who wear gloves.
The size of the grip is important too. The longest grip typically comes in men’s size.
While is is generally a simple asset, it is getting high-end. The loop minimizes the loss of your pole. Others like clickable or quick-release straps.
They are excellent tools on the racecourse or in the backcountry when you fall.
A quality carbon or aluminum stick flicks forward without needing too much weight. They won’t drag your hands either. The weight shouldn’t constrict easy movement or force hand movement.
You’ll probably notice when you rent skis they tend to a heavier metal. That’s to cover the possibility of snapping or bending under pressure. But if you buy, go with a quality product.
Using Your Sticks
The skier learns the basic turn first. Once you’ve conquered it, you can learn to execute complex movements, tricks, and challenges.
Basic Ski Moves
Parallel turns are essentially the most basic ski move.
Many see the wedge turn as the first step as you combine both to take a slope. So let’s take a look at both.
The wedge starts from a wide, stable stance. You’re in a relaxed position, feet apart and comfortable. Use a slight bend of the knees, a forward tilt of the shin.
You want your skis perhaps hip-width apart, hands about waist-high, and your hands outside the elbows. Tip your torso slightly forward, shoulders in front of the hips.
Slow turns should begin with a wider stance. You want to steer feet in the turn’s direction. Angle ski poles behind you.
You want to rotate or twist the lower torso. Your upper body can tilt in the direction if it helps. When the turn’s complete, steer into the new direction. Practice allows you to narrow the wedge and develops a better form for parallelling.
Find a good place to practice. That’s probably the lowest-angle, easiest slope available. You want to go in completely comfortable. You’re not testing your limits, so don’t feel you need a challenge.
Get into your wedge stance. You want to start shrinking that stance. What you do is take the slope. As you get better with your wedge, work on reducing the flare of your skis.
That shrinks the wedge. You get less speed control as you get better at parallel turns. The way to counteract that is to round your turns.
Once you’re comfortable, practice parallelling skis. Concentrate on flattening out the ski that’s inside and uphill.
Do so by skidding next to the downhill and outside ski. Once you get the hang of it, focus on flattening earlier in your turn.
Once you have a solid handle on the parallel, you start mastering how to use a ski pole properly.
Rhythm, Balance, Timing, Accuracy
Rhythm is the major influencer for coordinating all movement for efficiency and flow. You must develop a talent for delivering your stock at the right point.
This ensures new curves have great accuracy. It improves movement timing. Your skis offer support as you balance your center of mass between turns.
Preparing for a new turn, you plant the pole for turning into the new one. The pole connects at the right moment in the process, assisting in balance. The ski supports accuracy and shifts as your skis change edges.
During short turns, pole action connects with the ground. At that moment, the skier breaks the ski’s potential of continuing around the current curve. It’s that moment of support that allows edge changes and the start of the new curve in the next direction.
The Ski Edge
The ski edge is vital to managing parallel skiing before your turn. It’s also key for steering both skis down the slope. When your sticks hit their edges, you release them and move to the base of your skis.
Do this by flattening skis out into the surface of the snow. Use your feet and shins to accomplish the task. Now you’re able to turn the skis downhill and across the slope in a new direction.
Practice your sharp turns, getting your skis parallel. You’ll gradually and naturally edge them into the snow until you make complete stops. It’s similar to executing a turn, but there you exert momentum for the next turn.
Check out the technique in the video below for more help!
Using Ski Poles at Higher Speeds
At higher speeds, your skis are critical for performance. Knowing how to grip allows greater accuracy. Faster skiing requires bigger movements to build resistance against getting pulled outside the curve.
Until you get a better handle on balance and speed, you can’t depend on pole planting to always connect with the snow. The action has the potential to block your flow, throwing your mass across the skis.
Just remember, proper movement of the sticks helps pull you into the next curve. The faster you’re going, the longer the turns, the further your skies have to plant.
Bad Ski Pole Technique
Here are three bad habits both newbies and even seasoned skiers need to avoid if they want to know how to use a ski pole.
Skiers can drag their hands lazily down the sides and it causes skis to miss the pole plant. Your hands need to stay in front the way they would with a steering wheel, except at three and nine o’clock.
It maintains balance and leaves room for backward and forward wrist adjustment when pole planting.
Many skiers fail to strap correctly. The misstep leads to tension loss and not being able to plant when you need to or properly.
Many skiers have injured themselves after a thumb gets caught and they lose the pole. And there’s also the hike to retrieve the pole!
It can be difficult to control your arms, especially in the early stages of learning. Your arms swing and wave and flail. Excessive movement results in too much pressure.
You lose some control, making skilling harder. Plus, your skies flying around is a threat to others on the slope.
The best way to see if you’re using your skis properly is to watch others and yourself. Have your attempts taped so you can see how you’re moving and using your skis. You want to monitor your rhythm and reaction time.
Getting the hang of using your skis properly is a habit developed through practice. You see how better skiers carry themselves, especially when it comes to pole planting.
Keep at it, learn how to use a ski pole and you will develop the stability and confidence to be a great skier!