Two uses for the straps: Stop, maybe three: First, they prevent you from losing the poles in a fall or other situation where you don't want to have to climb back uphill to get them [or it]. Second, they help to keep your hand positioned on the pole - cross country skiers probably could not operate very efficiently without the straps, although this function is less important for alpine skiers. Third, in an accident, they prevent the pole from being pushed through your body, incuding your face. Don't laugh, this kind of accident happens, can be life threatening, and at least in one instance was deadly. However, when skiing trees, the greater danger is from having your shoulder ripped off by a pole caught in a tree, so take the straps off before you go into the trees.