When a Skier Should Not Use Ski Poles

The basic equipment list for skiing has always looked pretty much the same: skis, bindings, poles. However, if you have looked around the mountain in the last several years, you will see that more and more people are skiing without poles. This leads to the question: Should skiers always use ski poles? The answer depends on many factors. A lot of this decision to use ski poles or not comes down to your ability, your age, your skiing style, and the terrain you are going to be encountering. There are certain times where a skier should not use poles. In general, though, the benefits of poles far outweigh the negatives. So, overall, when a skier should not use poles?

Beginner Skiers

In virtually every ski school across the country, skiers are taught to ski without using poles. There are some very important reasons for this. The foundation of skiing is correct balance and center of gravity. When learning to turn, skiers need to understand that the hips and legs are the drivers of all edge to edge turning. Beginners do not need poles to turn, especially when they are still on very easy slopes. They need to feel where their center of mass is located, and poles flailing around can disrupt that.

Young Skiers

Small children, even those that have been skiing for a few years, should not use poles. Some experts think that kids should avoid using poles until at least 6 years old. This is because kids can control their turns better beyond that age, and may have mastered basic turning technique through their legs. Poles can interfere with learning the mechanics, especially among children. Poles can also be dangerous if they are planted incorrectly – or right in front of yourself- or waved wildly through the air. Small kids may not understand that until later.

Aggressive Skiers

Some skiers don’t care about turning. They want to bomb hills as fast as they can, with no care for proper technique. These people probably don’t need poles, as poles are mostly used to assist with turning. Poles also lead to air drag, and your body is not as aerodynamic as it could be without poles in hand.

Freestyle Skiers

In most terrain that skiers will tackle, poles are a big help. The main exception is the park. Many freestyle skiers go pole-less, to free up their whole body for tricks. Jumps are a lot cleaner when the skier can focus on landing a big, complex air without poles flying around. The same goes for rails and other tricks in the park. Poles are unnecessary.

Skiers Fine-tuning Their Skills

Some other types of skiers can do well by not using poles. If someone is getting too reliant on their poles, they can take a break from them. By refocusing on their legs through turns – and not the poles – their technique will come back. Some instructors take away poles from students if they are using the poles to stop. Stopping with poles is dangerous, and you can injure your wrist or knees if you plant too hard, or in front of yourself, with poles. Sometimes people lower their hands because of the poles, which can change the center of balance. Instructors might reset this habit by taking away the poles until it is fixed.

The Benefits of Poles

There are many reasons that poles have been around so long in skiing. Technically, you don’t even need poles. However, most ski instructors would never recommend skiing without them. This is because they refine turning to a much more precise and fluid motion. They help immensely with timing and balance, as well. Planting them signals the start of the turn and your muscle memory gets in tune with the poles.

Much of this is true for beginning skiers of all ages. Having no poles is great for learning, but as soon as you advance to a low intermediate stage, you should start using them. Notice how racers all use poles, even though they may be sacrificing aerodynamics? The poles help maintain balance through the entire turn. This goes for all levels, from intermediate to expert. Turning is easier to complete, especially in tighter short-radius turns, such as moguls and off-trail.

As any snowboarder knows, traverses are a pain without poles. Being able to push yourself along flat spots or laterally across the mountain is a huge plus. They can also help you navigate lift lines that have tricky inclines. Instead of slipping and sliding around those tight, crowded lines, you can just plant your poles.

Poles can also help to stand up after a fall. Trying to get up in deep powder snow is tough even with poles, but nearly impossible without them. Poles are great for little kids, as well. A parent can pull them around the mountain or use the poles to get them down a run that is too steep for them.


There are times when skiing without poles makes sense. Beginner skiers and children should learn to ski without poles, as basic turn technique should be learned primarily through the legs. Freestyle skiers will want their hands free from poles when they are flying around the park. Skiers of all levels can benefit from dropping the poles if they want to fix or adjust errors in their form or balance. Poles become an extension of hands, helping to maintain a centered balance. They are a crucial part of the turning process. In most terrain on the mountain, poles are a necessity to have.       

07 July 2022
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