Chapter 12 Pole use
Why do we carry poles around with us?
The answer is many fold and they help us with:
- Perception and many other complex things
We obviously also have the choice not to carry them if they are confusing, interfering with our progress or we are built differently – have no hands or arms for example. Our poles are obviously linked to our hands and arm carriage and if our hands and arms placement isn’t effective then adding use of a pole won’t necessarily be of any benefit. Therefore it is imperative that our hands and arms are calm and generally hip or waist high and slightly forward and out to the side.
Let’s take a look at a few ideas.
Balancing, they are used in a very similar way to a tightrope walkers’ long pole. They should be held firmly but relaxed and diverge outward and downward toward the snow and this can be changed to help in different situations:
- More like a cowboy holding a gun for a more direct and quick poleplant.
- More like an American gangster for a more diverged poleplant.
They can also create bad habits; if you feel that you are always dragging the inside pole (the hand that will be naturally closer to the snow) maybe you aren’t really balancing skilfully but relying on this too much. Can you survive without it?
Experiment in different ways;
- Lift this pole off the snow or reduce the amount of weight on it
- Drag both
- Drag the outside one more than the inside
Or try skiing without poles for a while to see if it’s something you’ve just become used to doing.
Any affectation; double poleplant, dragging or reliance on these isn’t “wrong” but if you have to rely on it, it might be pointing at a fundamental fault in your stance and balancing. Telemarking or skiing without poles or use of strange hand and arm placement are great things to do to help create balancing finesse.
Timing, this requires great co-ordination and lots of skiers find this hard but the idea is to use the poleplant as a conductor uses his baton. It can also give support at the time when the skier needs it, either; changing pressure from one ski to the other, changing direction with rotation, changing edges by rolling onto the new ones or projecting themselves fore-agonally down the hill into the next turn.
The timing is crucial and generally happens at the end of the previous turn and although this sounds pedantic NOT at the beginning of the next as this could be too late. There are of course different outcomes with the timing and it all has to be experimented with to become “complete”.
- The arm carriage is weak and therefore using the pole only makes it worse
- The arms move too much as the pole moves forward
- The non poleplanting hand and arm move in the opposite direction, creating over rotation
- The action is late so is rushed
- The action involves the upper body too, creating too much positive rotation
- The pole is held too weakly or too strongly
- The poles are too long or too short
- The action in too swingy – the pole doesn’t go directly to the snow (See Pole swing and grip later)
Attempt to make the pole action as smooth as the turns you are making and timed during the middle to the end of the turn.
There are a few variations to pole plant;
The crutch, this is a firmly planted pole with weight on it, so much so that the pole can actually bend. Useful on steeps and in bumps where the skier/Telemarker feels they need support.
The touch, the pole touches the snow very softly; this is used entirely for timing rather than support. Useful in deep powder and at higher speeds where if the crutch was used it would interfere with balancing.
The fake, a drill really, to help wean a skier off a heavy reliance on the poles, a bit like taking them away, without taking them away (very Bruce Lee “the art of fighting without fighting”). The timing action is used but the pole doesn’t touch the snow at all.
The double, you see this mainly in slalom or on steep terrain and is useful for stability and separating the upper body from the lower. It can also be used in all of the above and in times of mistakes or uncertainty too.
The pole tips are lightly dragged on the snow to create a separate pathway of feeling and feedback, other than the feet. You can also use them as “light sabres” where they are a given distance from the snow as if there is a force field, very Star Wars, feel the force Luke! The poles can be held normally or like swords out to the side.
Perception, the poles can also be used like a cat’s whiskers. I use this in times of bad light, when the eyes and therefore the brain get a little confused and you need more info/feedback. Akin to the double poleplant, dragging or touching both poles on the snow as you cross the slope can help inform you how steep the slope is by feel and if you can see your hands peripherally, by the angle they are at. Snow texture can also be felt.
Drills using poles; develop a varied action with the focuses above and although this section is on poleplant, try any drill in any section or terrain without one and then replace it and it should help you feel “bionic” or bombproof.
Borrow a friend’s pole so you have 3 and place it behind you elbows and on your stomach. If you move your hands and arms too much you’ll lose the 3rd pole.
Place a pole on top of your thumbs and pretend it’s full of nitro glycerine and will explode if moved too much and or imagine it’s a spirit level and try to keep it level.
Do the same as above but this time over your shoulders with your arms over the top of it like James Dean carrying a shotgun in the film Giant!
Pole swing and grip
Some people call it a pole swing too! The timing should be swing, touch or swing, plant. The action should be compact coming mainly from the wrist and forearm. Imagine the tip swinging through the air and then directly touching the snow, not travelling forward and up then backward like someone harpooning a whale.
The pole has scallops for the fingers, try to grip the handle gently but securely as many skiers let go of the pole during the action which kind of means the action is not fully under control. How you grip it will depend also on what type; stronger grip for the crutch, lighter grip for the touch!
(Tip) One of the faults that many skiers and Telemarkers make when pole planting, is their hands/arms move too much. Try to keep the hands and arms quiet, not still, they should remain in peripheral vision and not end up behind the hip (as if searching for something in your back pocket or Forest Gump walking) or disappear from someone looking at you from below. This will affect your balancing and interfere with control of rotation (See Stance and Balance and Steering inputs).
Conclusion, many skiers and Telemarkers rely too much on their poles by weighting or dragging them all the time; use them in this way when needed or appropriate but try to improve your technique and balancing skills within your boots. Increase you poles versatility other than just a one dimensional concept. Use them subtly and finesse-fully.
Sometimes leave them behind for a while and ski pole naked!