When people are just starting to ski, one of the first questions that come to mind is this: do you need to use ski-poles?
The short answer is no. but there is an extensive list of pros and cons concerning whichever route you choose to go, with factors dependent on your riding style, skill level, and preferences.
Table of Contents
Benefits of using ski poles
Move forward easier where it’s flat
While this article is focusing on downhill/resort skiing, the use of poles in traversing flats still comes into play. Many resorts will still have spots where you find yourself on very little to no incline, especially in back-country spots, so the use of ski-poles in these situations can make life that much easier. While in wider areas you may be able to use the inline skiing technique to create speed on the flats, this becomes difficult to near impossible on narrow tree/hillside trails.
Using your ski poles to help orient yourself when executing a parallel turn is a big upside in favor of the poles and keeping your balance.
That pole plant can be effective in your timing as well, as it signals your body when to initiate the turn. Using your poles to plant into the ground can also assist your balance and orientation off of big aerial landings-giving you a four-point contact, and can also help take some of the pressure off of your knees.
For deep powder skiing, the boost can be essential for maintaining your momentum. As anyone who has ridden in deep powder knows, losing your speed when you’re skiing in three feet of snow or more can mean a long hike if you’re not careful.
While you can use your other ski to do this, using your ski poles to release your skis is usually the more convenient way to do it. This is especially true in deep powder where you may not be able to move or even see either one of your skis.
Mounting for action camera
The ski-pole also gives you another mounting option for action cameras. The length of a ski pole gives you the advantage of views that are not normally possible even with the standard length of a go-pro stick, and the fact that you do not have to buy a selfie stick is an added bonus to the different views and shots you will get.
The little things
While I do not believe these should be deciding factors in your decision, it is worth noting some of the smaller advantages to using ski-poles such as: being able to draw a map in the snow, giving your friends or kids a boost in the slow spots, or using it to make yourself more visible to distant friends.
Downsides of using ski poles
Risk for more injuries
One of the potential downsides for using ski poles is the injuries you could sustain to your wrist and/or fingers by accidentally jarring them. The potential for other injuries such as self-impalement or hitting other skier’s accidentally (or possibly on purpose if you’re dealing with children) is also very high, which is one of the main reasons why adults may choose to have their children first learn to ski without poles.
There has, however, be a control method created to reduce and eliminate many of these risks: the quick release Ski-Pole Strap-Leki Trigger S. This automatically releasing ski pole strap not only releases after you push down on the trigger but is designed to release automatically if the poles get caught up on something.
The quick-release ski poles also make it way easier to detach your ski poles from your hands when you are entering the ski lifts.
Advantages of skiing without ski poles
The most common riding style that goes pole-less would be freestyle or park-riding. This is simply because you do not need them, and the risk of impalement increases dramatically when you are adding jumps, drops, and spins into the equation. Terrain parks are built to have smooth flow and transitions, so the use for quick turning maneuvers becomes irrelevant, with an added emphasis on agility. Different aerial grabs and hand plants may only be possible if you are not using poles, so if the park is where your true passion lies, it might be wise to put the poles down.
As I mentioned earlier, another upside for going pole-less would be for children, or more specifically novice children. Novice riders, in general, may fall into this category, but the increased maturity level of an adult can make it more viable for them to start off with poles. For children who are likely to swordfight, go out of bounds, and attempt to do things beyond their skill level, riding without poles is more often the way to go when starting out (and can put the parent’s mind at ease).
Another reason why an instructor may advise you to go without poles is if he observes an over-reliance on poles. It is easy to develop bad habits when you start due to people instinctively using their poles to try to stop, or paying too much attention to their hand placement. Instructors may recommend that you focus on the basics first, such as; stopping, centering your body, and bending your knees, before they add in the extra task of proper pole placement and use.
Downsides of skiing without ski poles
Well, pretty much everything that you can do with the poles is on this list. While it may improve your riding in certain areas such as the park, freestyle, or perhaps the back-country in special cases where you balance better without distractions, most people would argue that anything you can do without poles, you can do with poles. Some would even argue that your style while riding with poles is significantly better when doing aerial tricks.
There is no right answer, so your style and preference strongly come into play here. While statistically, big mountain riders will use poles more often, there will still be those few that do not. The same goes for park and freestyle; there are those that use poles in and out of the park. The best way in discovering which is right for you is to simply rent poles and test out using them on certain runs, and compare that to not using them on certain runs.