A lifetime of walking and running will help you use your legs to get around on skis. Poling, on the other hand, is a different matter. You could use poles as you walk or run during your daily routine, but you might get a little tired explaining yourself. A more practical approach, perhaps, is to spend some concentrated effort on efficient poling the next time you ski by applying these poling principles.
Buying and sizing poles
With a properly sized pole, your body weight can move over your poles. Skaters, especially, tend to use poles that are too long. Skiers of either stripe with poles that are too long are easy to spot, as their hands rise in front every time they pole as if they were raising a mirror to see if their hair looks good or to check traffic behind them. This arm and torso motion straightens the upper body and puts the hips behind the feet at the start of the pole cycle. From this position, the puny arm muscles are all that are left to pole with.
For skating, the top of the pole should come to between your chin and your lips when you are standing on the snow off of your skis or on the floor in your shoes. For classic skiing, the top of the pole should be between your armpit and your shoulder. Skiers with a stronger upper body should tend toward the longer measurement.
Lower priced poles are seldom stiff enough to transfer much force. The more you pay, the stiffer and lighter the pole will be. If you have to choose one, opt for stiffness at the expense of lightweight. Be careful when you try a pair of stiff, light poles—it’s hard to go back to a heavier stick.
Stiff and light poles are fragile, so if you buy them, take care of them. Nicks from banging around in the back of the car, hitting other skiers and general wear and tear can cause weaknesses that lead to broken poles. To protect your poles, use more durable poles or be in front in mass start races, choose stout poles for off track adventures, and use some sort of protective tube while transporting your poles. For plane travel, you can reduce the bulk and weight of a protective pole tube in your ski bag by placing your skate and classic poles together. Alternate the grips and baskets so that the shafts mate closely, and use duct tape to strap them together into one strong carbon rod.
A properly designed grip and strap will allow you to grip the pole lightly and release it at the end of the pole stroke without losing control of the pole. As a minimum, the handle should extend above the strap, and the strap should be easy to adjust. Cork or other conformable coverings make the handle more comfortable and easier to grip. Many strap arrangements are designed to cradle your hand and improve the control of the pole after you release it. If you want these benefits, choose a design that you understand and is easy to adjust for different sized gloves. If you ski with small children, dogs, or have any other need to frequently take your poles on and off, consider sticking with simple, standard pole straps.
Regardless of what grip and strap combination you choose, the pole strap will need to be adjusted so that you can continue to push after you release the grip with your hand.
Photo 1: Adjust the strap, so the union between your index finger and thumb is snug against the grip.
Keep your hands low and let your arms swing naturally from your shoulder.
Without poles, stand in a good skiing stance with ankles, knees and hips equally flexed. Without moving forward, relax your arms, and let them swing back and forth as if you were holding a brick in each hand. Ski without your poles or grip them in the middle of the shaft and swing your arms in this same easy way while skiing. Let the natural and relaxed arm swing of walking or running become part of your skiing.
Plant the basket behind the grip, so that pushing on your poles results in forward motion.
Poles can’t push you forward unless they are angled to the rear. Baskets get out in front for various reasons; to break the habit, put your pole straps on, but grip the poles lightly or not at all. Ski a kilometer or so, swinging your arms as above while letting your baskets drag in the snow. Keep your hands low as you swing the poles forward. When the pole basket reaches your toe, begin to swing your arm back, which will plant the basket. Ski in this way until the easy, natural arm swing starts to feel normal while you stride or skate.
Push on your poles with your elbow bent.
You are stronger with your elbow bent than straight. Push down against a friend or even a table with a straight arm and then with your elbow bent to see for yourself. After each pole push, relax and let your arm or arms swing forward naturally. As your hand swings forward past your thigh, bend your arm to bring your hand and pole into place. The basket of your pole should be somewhere near the front of your foot. Your hand should be higher as it passes your body while pushing than when it swings forward.
Photo 2: The basket should hit the snow while it is still swinging forward.
Push towards the basket, not back or up.
Pushing along the shaft converts more of your effort into forward motion. As you begin to pole, drive your hand toward your knee. As your hand nears your body, push toward the basket; then open your hand and continue to push through the strap as you complete the pole push.
Photo 3: Open your hand and push through the pole
Fall onto your poles, not through them.
Use your abdominal muscles as if you were doing a crunch as you begin to pole, as if you were lifting yourself up and over your poles, lightening the pressure on your skis. At the end of the crunch, drive your hands down and back along your pole shafts with your back muscles, then complete the push with your arms and hands.
Photo 4: Lift yourself up and over your poles.
Photo 5: Avoid the common mistake of falling through the poles.
The forward movement of your hips and torso brings your arms forward.
This is easier to understand in the double pole motion and requires you truly to relax your arms at the end of the pole stroke. Without poles, find a friend to hold your arms behind you as if you just completed a double pole. Completely relax your arms, allowing your friend to support their weight. Have them release your hands without telling them when to do so. Your arms should immediately swing forward.
Once you learn to let go, drive your hips (your core) up and forward over your feet at the same time that you relax your arms, accelerating the fall of your arms toward your hips. As they pass your hips, raise your hands to bend your arms and bring your poles into position. Be sure to initiate the forward motion with your core so that your weight is forward of your feet when your poles are planted. As you rise, maintain a C shape from your thighs to your forehead, so that your entire body moves forward with your hips, arriving over your poles in a powerful position. Avoid arching your back; keep your head and chest in front of your hips.
Photo 6: Avoid arching your back. Ski like this and you will hurt!
Recover your poles quickly.
The natural tendency is to move poles and arms quickly back and slowly forward, resulting in a slow, fast, slow movement of the skis. Recover your poles forward more quickly to maintain a consistent ski speed that takes less effort when diagonal or double poling.
Although most beginner skiers will benefit from using their poles less for balance and more for propulsion, poles do aid balance. Getting them in the snow quickly helps you balance on that one skinny ski during the diagonal stride and the V-2 (one skate) and V-2A (two skate) techniques.
To get your poling working, get a good set of poles, follow these principles and your poles will no longer be alien appendages.