Originally Posted by CTKook
But: the elephant in the room is whether 1) most skiers use their poles correctly (I think most would agree they don't), and 2) what to do about it.
Poles are a tool, and like all tools they can help or hurt depending on how they're used; and are more needed in some situations (bumps, say) than others (straightlining).
A small example: Many people are convinced that a pole "plant" is the correct way to use a ski pole. Some who have posted here, in fact, have asserted that they find the poles necessary to help them stay upright by bracing against the snow. This is usually not an effective way to use poles (although we all do it occasionally), and in some kinds of snow conditions and terrain, it's blatantly impossible.
Those who aggressively "plant" their poles while skiing bumps, for instance, will rather abruptly have at least momentary trouble when the expected support isn't there, such as when a mound of snow is much softer than it looks. If you're using a blocking pole plant on every turn in the bumps, you will find, inevitably, that sometimes the block just doesn't happen, and it screws up your balance (because you were out of balance anyway, and you were depending on the pole plant to help you move to balance). The result is anything from a slight bobble to a complete face plant.
Good powder and bump skiers use their poles extensively. They assist with timing, they help trigger other movements, and they are a huge asset to balance even without being "planted."
You can swing the pole, touch that soft bottomless mound, anchor, move or orient your COM so that you can do what you want or need to do with your feet, all without ever actually putting any pressure on the pole. Or, if conditions or tactics call for it, you may be able to use a true plant to help with any of those goals just mentioned. Just don't depend on it.
I find myself, these days, skiing a lot of very soft, inconsistent snow in steep terrain. I don't have powder baskets on my poles. The pole swings, it touches, it helps me move. It is not a prop or a support. There usually isn't any support to be had.
As others have said, it's also possible to ski, and ski well, without poles. As always, be mindful of hands, arms, and upper body. It can be elegant, and it's a good drill for those of us who use poles. Poles are useful, but we ski on our feet. We walk on our feet, and we don't assist ourselves by placing our hands on the ground (I don't anyway, although I have some trouble with my knuckles dragging...
). We do use the position and movements of our hands and arms to assist with walking - and if it's there, we may grab a railing or a handhold.
As Kook (and others) have said, poles are useful tools. They should not be crutches.