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Why pole plant?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
I've been skiing for a little over 3 years (~80 days) now and feel I've come quite a long way in that period of time (Solid Level 7 or weak level 8 based on most charts). I'm comfortable on black runs and will do the occasional double diamond at our local resort (where I know the terrain and snow the best).

That being said, I still can't figure out the point of pole planting when turning. My wife (who's been skiing for over 20 years) keeps trying to convince me that I really should do it, but can't explain why. Typically, I just tuck my poles up and behind me to keep them out of my way. My main focus is on making smooth transitions from edge to edge and maintaining good balance (especially over rougher terrain).

On more moderate runs (blues and easier blacks) I can use my poles, but it just feels awkward and doesn't seem to do anything for me. On higher speed runs, if I try to plant a pole at all, I feel like I may hit it too hard and end up pole VAULTING instead of pole planting. Either way, trying to use them is always a distraction instead of a help.

Am I missing something? I have no doubt that my ski form is far from perfect and I'm looking at taking lessons to help me refine (and probably unlearn/relearn/fix) what I do now. As I get into that, is there something I should be focusing on that means I should be using my poles? Or can I just be content to use them for skating and picking myself back up after a spill?
post #2 of 10
Hi Justin!

A pole plant can serve 2 purposes:
-help balance during an edge change
-help timing and direction of movements during an edge change

Pole plant versus pole touch
In the old days before shaped skis, a pole plant also helped us up unweight the skis. We really used to stick the pole hard into the snow and pushed on it to help get the skis off the snow before turning them. That's why it was called a plant. We still do that once in a while, but most of the time instructors prefer to call the movement a "pole touch" because if you plant the pole in the snow when using modern skis, you'll likely end up with the problems you describe about higher speed turns.

When you make a turn, you change from one side of the ski being engaged in the snow to the other side. Half way through, the skis are flat on the snow and the edges are very briefly not engaged in the snow. At that point in time, the skis are not very stable on the snow. If you're not in balance, they could easily get twisted off line from the direction you want to go. A pole touch establishes a stable platform or point of reference for the body to rely on for that brief moment when the edges are not in the snow to do the same job. Even when you are skiing slow, the length of time the skis spend being flat on the snow is pretty short, so all we need is a brief pole touch. If you ski fast enough and change edges fast enough, the skis go through flat so fast that a pole touch is not necessary. This why a lot of racers and snowbladers don't use pole touches.

Timing and direction cue
As you've discovered, pole touching at the wrong point of a turn really messes things up. But an efficient ski turn requires a lot of different body parts turning right and left, moving up and down and moving back and forth. In order to get the most out of a turn, these movements need to happen in the right sequence and in the right direction. In the middle of a turn, our skis will be slightly ahead of us relative to when we started the turn. At the end of a turn we need to be catching back up so that we can be slightly ahead of the skis when we start the next turn. A pole swing helps us to time this movement - to know when to start moving the body forward relative to the ski. As you swing the pole forward, you should also be moving your body forward too. But we don't just move the body forward to start the new turn. We also move it to from one side of the skis to the other side. When you combine forward and sideways, you get a diagonal direction. Because we want the exact direction of that diagonal to be toward where the middle of the next turn will be, the exact direction of the diagonal will vary depending on the intended turn shape. Reaching out down the slope with the pole and touching it in the snow ahead of the boots establishes a visual reference of where we want that diagonal to point to and reaching to that point with our arms gives our body a cue to move in that direction too.

So a pole touch can be helpful in 2 ways, but it is not necessary for skiing. A common drill instructors do to get better is to ski without poles to make turning movements harder to make. This helps us focus better on what those movements are. But if you do not already know what those movements are, skiing with poles can help you learn to make them. Once you've learned the movements, why not keep using a tool that makes them easier to do? In the meantime, poles work great during skating and in the lift lines. But you might find that getting up without using your poles can be easier than getting up using them. So there you have it - why, and why not, to plant or touch your poles.
post #3 of 10

Why Pole Plant #2

On less steep groomed trails pole plant not really necessary as is mostly pure carving. Good balanced stance is most important.

Transition to steeper terrain and the pole plant becomes more necessary the steeper the terrain gets. Planting the pole down the trail projects your body into the next turn and really helps to get you forward and not in the back seat. Also helps to align your body for the upcoming turn. Often stated as "blocking" your body to the hill. It is very important.

In bumps is basically the same thing. Pole is planted near the top of the mogul and helps to align your body for the new turn.

On less steep groomed trails try pole planting with short radius turns. Really helps with balance timing and movement.

Basically - your wife is right. However it is more necessary in some places than others. In Canada we are not emplhasizing pole plants for entry level and intermediate skiers as balance and edging are more important at that level. Even new instructors this is not a requirement any more. Weird.

Hope that answers some questions and sorry to post on a page where I cannot reply.

Mike Hoyt
former level I examiner
post #4 of 10
A pole touch is a key component of good skiing for a number of reasons:

1) Timing - to release the edge, to start a new turn, to help make tactical decisions in terrain (bumps).

2) Coordination - The lower body can react more quickly than the upper body, so a lack of upper/lower body coordination (i.e. no pole plant) can leave the upper body behind, inhibiting balance, power, tactics.

3) Balance - a) to stabilize or terminate rotational movements, b) to assist with fore/aft and lateral balance.

4) Proprioception - to tell your brain (cerebellum) where the hill is in relation to your body. This is a key component in moving ahead / down the hill, as well as knowing how much to move inside the arc.

5) Rhythm and linking which helps to create alternating pulses of power and relaxation.

That's news to me that the CSIA is de-emphasizing the pole plant for novice skiers.

The ACA (Alpine Canada) promoted 'fundamentals' includes:

- Natural balance/stance
- Suspension (use all the joints)
- Ski with separation
- Ski on the outside ski
- Use a pole touch

post #5 of 10
As you progress to steeper, more technical skiing, you will discover that the pole swing and touch become more critical because they can get a turn started when nothing else will.

What we learn as we progress in skiing should always apply to expert skiing down the road, or it probably is unnecessary.
post #6 of 10
I agree w/ Nolo.
A pole plant becomes more and more imperative as the terrain gets steeper, and knarlier.

I also believe upper body disipline, anchored by a solid pole swing and touch (or plant depending on terrain and type of turn) solves lots of of other problems. in many ways, it prevents bad movements more then it creates new activity.

post #7 of 10
When you look at slalom skiers, they don't plant poles. I think they have the best and most aggressive techniques. But when you ski steeps, powder or bumps, pole planting is important and comes naturally. I think hand position is important, have them out front. I sometimes make almost a gesture movement with my hands instead of touching the pole. Learning to touch is a good skill though I think, especially ensuring that you touch equally on both sides and don't ignore one side.tongue.gif
post #8 of 10

First of all, Slalom skiers do have a pole touch. Second, this thread is from 2008.

post #9 of 10

Yes, The timing is block-touch.  YM

post #10 of 10
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