If the world was flat, would there be no poles? Never mind!!
Sometimes you can add to your skills by taking something away. We are creatures of habit and do things we have learned through repetition and muscle memory. Preparing to ski is one of them. I generally carry my skis to the bridge by the clock tower, place them on snow – I don’t just let them fall – put on my hat, gloves and goggles, pick up poles, “click in” to bindings and skate to Mardi Gras. A lot of you probably do variations of the same thing. Well try this: do all the same things but leave the poles in the lodge. Do you think that is going to change how you skate to the lift? Try it. I bet all of a sudden you are a lot more aggressive with your legs and upper body and you’re probably using the length of your skis and developing a powerful inside edge.
Removing your poles will do many different things to your skiing, none of them bad. Your poles are critical in good high-end skiing, but they also can contribute to some bad habits. So leave your poles at the top or bottom of the lift (if you give the attendants a “heads up,” they will keep an eye on them for you).
What is the first thing you notice without your poles? Like maybe you don’t know what to do with your hands? But what are they doing? Are they hanging straight down at your sides? Are they in your pockets? Are your arms outstretched like airplane wings? Probably not. Your arms are probably bent at the elbows with your hands slightly in front of you. Why? Because this is probably a balanced stance for you. Practice skating a bit and see what you do, or just pick up one foot and glide, then pick up the other and glide. Your hands are, very likely, naturally moving to assist you by helping you maintain balance.
Place your hands on your thighs midway between your waist and knees and make some shallow turns. This stance should have you slightly flexed at the waist yet quite upright. Cruise down Mardi Gras like this and feel if you don’t develop a nice turn entry and solid edge and pressure control throughout these shallow turns.
Now put your hands on your waist. Likely you will feel more weight going to your heels, putting you a bit in the backseat. If you bend over and place your hands on your knees and make the same turns, you should notice more of a strong rotation with your shoulders and upper body at the beginning of turns with a washout of the tails at the end of the turn. Your body position has loaded up the front of the skis, limiting your ability to manage pressure and steering. For parents who are skiing with youngsters who are learning how to ski and are still in the wedge, DO NOT have the kids put their hands on their knees! Have them place them on their thighs and see if that does not make a noticeable difference.Now if you want to work a bit more without poles, take a run down Morning Star and make some medium radius turns. I bet you are naturally using your hands very subtly to assist and enhance your balance. Without your poles, your focus is on your feet and skis; I bet you are probably feeling pretty good.
Improper pole use is a huge detriment to good skiing. Actually we often train the staff without poles, because it does hone in on natural balance.
Your poles are two points of contact with the snow, they are used to enhance your balance, and they are a tactile sense of where you are in space. Taking them away will enhance all of that within yourself.
To add an extra dimension as you ski through your turn, keep your hands parallel to the pitch of the slope. So your uphill hand should be higher in the beginning, level out in the middle of the turn then that same hand – now the downhill – will be lower. Do a couple runs intentionally doing that and see if it doesn’t set you up for easier entries and control in your turns.
If you really want to task yourself, go to the moguls on Morning Star and take a few turns in the bumps without your poles. Stay on the edge so you can scoot out if needed.
So to wrap it up, once you pick your poles up just keep that natural sense of movement and balance and see if your pole use isn’t more a compliment to your balance. Poles should not be programmed movements nor used as pillars of support. They are there to assist in all aspects of skiing, subtly and naturally.
For more of these little tips, join one of our sessions led by a PSIA-E/AASI certified pro.
Learn –Turn – Smile –Repeat