Originally Posted by lonewolf210
Not really. Yes people lose poles when tehya re out of control but I have also seen racers lose poles because they miss judge their line and clip a gate that pulls the pole out of their hand.
That's a different situation -- of course clipping a gate unexpectedly at high speed is going to mess you up. In a race someone typically loses a pole because something has gone wrong. Losing a few ounces of weight on one hand is not going to meaningfully throw someone off in a speed event.
...Even when the poles aren't being used for a plant they are an important part of balance and essential to learn to use if the OP wishes to progress. I have spent entire lessons doing nothing but working on pole plants and hands position.
Pole plants are usually HELPFUL, and for most people they are useful for dialing in upper body and hand positioning/timing. But unless you're making blocking plants in moguls or on VERY steep terrain, they are not "essential" to ski well. They weigh so little that a normal swing has no practical effect on your balance -- it's all in the hand and body positioning.
Originally Posted by SnowbirdDevotee
You ski with your poles not your legs.
I could not disagree more with that statement. Ski turns are primarily made with lower body movements. If your upper body is in the wrong place it's harder to get your feet and legs to do what you want, but the goal is to get the skis to go where you want them to. Good hand position isn't going to salvage a fundamentally flawed turn.
A well-timed pole swing/touch can help you keep your hands and upper body in the right place, but from a physics perspective they do practically nothing unless you make a blocking plant.
Most people have poles that are too short. Don't go by the ski shop guideline of holding the pole upside down with you hand on top, you need a size or possibly two longer.
The normal way of sizing poles is to hold them upside down with your hand under the (inverted) basket and the handle on the floor. (The idea being that in soft snow the part beyond the basket will be in the snow if you plant it, so you want to size it between the handle and basket.) With the correct length your hand should be level with your elbow in that position, or maybe a tiny bit below.
If your poles are too short, when you plant it will cause your shoulders to rotate to much, and you will turn too much, loosing your momentum. It is extremely common for this to happen and a huge reason skiers don't progress to the next level.
If your poles are too short and you try to firmly plant them in the snow on every turn, that can mess you up. If you make a more normal swing a short pole isn't normally an issue. If you ski a lot of moguls you may find it easier with poles that are a little short, since the tops of the moguls below you are relatively higher than the snow on an open slope.
Too-long poles can also be an issue, since it becomes hard to actually reach downhill without snagging them on the snow during your swing. That can make people lean their upper body back.
If you rotate your shoulders because you swing your pole you're doing something very weird. If you're planting so hard that it throws off your momentum, that's also an issue, but it has little to do with your poles. You normally want to make a VERY light touch, or just make a swing from the wrist without the pole even touching the snow. This is one of the reasons why instructors sometimes like to have people ski without poles -- if you're misusing them it can hide other problems, or throw you off.