By Ron Kubicki, Director, Holiday Valley Snowsports School
Most people do not realize how much their poles affect their turns and overall skiing. In these articles I often talk about an athletic, upright stance. How you hold your hands and poles directly affects this as it enhances or detracts from your upper body position.
To keep an athletic, balanced stance, your elbows should be slightly away from your rib cage and your hands should be outside your elbows with your palms facing slightly down.
If your elbows are tight against your ribs with hands up, you will find you will be using a lot of upper body rotation to start your turns, putting you in a very defensive position. If your elbows are flared out from your ribs and your hands are in and down at your waist – like chicken wings – you will also be using a lot of upper body rotation to begin your turns.
Also, how you grip your poles is very important. Your poles should be between your thumb and forefinger, basically balanced/suspended by the web between these two fingers. You don’t really grip your poles as much as grasp them with a light touch that allows them to swing freely from within this loose grip – like an unclosed fist. With a toss of your wrist, you allow your poles to swing forward and begin your turn. In your turn you use a pole touch as opposed to a pole plant. You sort of “toss” your pole into your turn. Let it touch and turn around this point. As you pass by, you gently tighten your grip and grasp the pole by lightly closing the three fingers that are not balancing the pole.
We are talking about rhythmic parallel turns here – not steep or bump skiing where a more powerful pole action will enhance your descent.
To get the feel for this: on a flat area, just stand up tall and practice swinging your poles with this loose grip. You’ll see how it keeps you tall and loose. Swing one forward, then the other. Let them swing freely, but control them with your fingers and palm.
Now grip your poles firmly and plant your pole. Notice how your body has lowered and your upper body is tense?
The swing of your poles from turn to turn will help coordinate your turn rhythm and shape. Even saying it to yourself as you make your turns – “Toss…Touch…Turn” – will give you a pace and cadence to enhance your turns. This free swinging of your poles keeps you upright and balanced, and leads you into your next turn. It keeps you focused in the direction of your new turn and enhances your edge change by moving your body across your skis.
The longer your turn shape, the farther the touch of your pole. You should not extend your arm to reach out to touch. Your swings should point the way into your next turn.
Straighten your index finger and point at the belly of your next turn – where your skis will be in the fall line. Touch downhill from your skis so as not to hinder your turn. You’re turning around your pole touch.
Now practice this on some wide open terrain; a good spot is on Raven. Remain upright and swing with a relaxed grip. Set your rhythm with your pole swing. The action of swinging and facing the direction of your new turn continues to be enhanced with the upper and lower body separation this activity promotes. If you have been reading my articles, you will know this upper and lower body separation is a common theme.
You also may find that the faster the turns you make, there is more “swing” than “touch” in pole usage and this is fine, as you will undoubtedly realize they play an important part in your lateral balance as well. Change up your cadence and play with turn shape. You will soon find the role your poles play in effective skiing.
I referred earlier in this article about other pole usage techniques. Like everything in this sport, there are a number of different ways to use the “tools of the trade,” and I will have a later article on the way “blocking” with your pole-plant gives you stability and power to turn fast and clean in the bumps and on the steeps. But let’s play with this for right now.
If you want more skills and tactics to use in your skiing, consider a coaching/teaching session with one of our a PSIA/AASI trained professional instructors.
I look forward to seeing you on the slopes
Learn – Turn – Smile – Repeat!