and poles do nothing , or alot (or both nothing or alot) and it depends on how good you are.
Bushwacker--I know for certain that, as a talented and experienced pro, you can do better than that. Crofrog asked an honest question. I'm sure that that bit of "non-advice," while not entirely untrue, is not what you'd give to your students on the hill when they ask the same question.
Crofrog--Please reread Kneale's post (#4), and skip pretty much everything else in this thread. I'm sorry that EpicSki has let you down with some pretty unprofessional behavior. Must be the short days of mid-winter cabin fever getting to us!
I'll add that poles can be helpful in many ways, but that they can also be quite a distraction. And they can create more problems than they solve if misused. As an extension of your arms, they are similar to how you use your arms when not skiing. That is to say, when you're shuffling slowly down the street, you may just have your hands in your pockets--and it would be silly to "do" much with them. But as soon as you start to run, your hands come out of those pockets and get involved--naturally and intuitively, and more vigorously the faster you go. Poles are like that. As you gain speed and ski more challenging terrain, you may find that pole swing, pole touches, and occasionally solid pole plants all become part of your repertoire. But thinking about it will defeat the purpose, and using them "wrong" will be worse than not using them at all. Can you imagine trying to "think" about how to use your arms when you run? "Let's see, as I move my right foot forward and stand on the ball of my left foot, I should hold my left hand about two feet in front of my navel and my right hand about a foot behind my hips...then...." Not much rhythm and flow in that, is there--even if you could describe the movements accurately?
You'll use your poles differently when turning (offensive, gliding) than when braking (defensive, skidding). You'll use them somewhat differently in bumps and other very short turns than in longer, rounder turns like giant slalom (watch World Cup racers in Slalom and Giant Slalom, as well as moguls, to get a better idea). Timing, rhythm, flow, direction, as well as balance and recovery from imbalance, sensing the snow surface and your body's relation to it, and even dragging a pole off to the side to introduce a gentle turning effect (torque), or driving it in at a forward angle to create a powerful twisting force when needed (rarely)--all these are "typical" uses of poles. As in swinging your arms when running, the pole swing is often more important than the plant itself.
But they're just not that critical, especially until you advance a bit. The great Phil Mahre used to say that "if poles were half as important as some people think they are, we'd call the sport 'poling'!"
Of course, if you're starting to wonder about them, it may be time! And don't underestimate the importance of using them for propulsion on the flats, or for maneuvering and braking in lift lines. Don't get rid of them just yet--simply having them in your hands will allow you to find more and more uses for them as the need arises.
Your best bet would be to take a lesson from a qualified pro, and specifically request to work on pole use.
PS--you're a slackliner, eh? There's not much better than that for developing balance, and you're right--you don't want your poles to interfere with those natural arm movements of balancing. On the other hand, the more you can discipline your upper body and arms and eliminate all unnecessary movement, the better.