You're right, Dano--as a more-or-less "compulsory figure" in an exam, it is vital to understand exactly how the task is defined. And that can vary from division to division, from time to time, or even (unfortunately) from examiner to examiner.
In the Rockies, we've just produced a new video with good examples of each of the exam maneuvers we use. This should help clarify what's being asked, as trainers, exam candidates, and examiners will all have access to the same video.
But I'll repeat what I said about the real significance of the maneuvers we use on the exam. The maneuvers themselves are not the point. They are merely vehicles that showcase certain important movement patterns and skills--or the lack thereof. Despite popular opinion, you cannot "fail pivot slips." But movement biases or skill deficiencies that pivot slips may reveal can certainly cause your demise!
It is unfortunate that so many instructors obsess over the little details, while missing the core movement patterns that are the reason for various exam maneuvers. In the case of pivot slips, pole use is absolutely unimportant, unless it interferes with the basic mechanics (which it can easily do if it represents a blocking pole plant). "Rising to release the edges" is likewise an unimportant ingredient. Steering from released edges, rather than pushing off from a platform, is the key. Edges release by flattening, not by "rising." While rising may often accompany this flattening movement, it is not essential. Furthermore, there is no particular reason to set the edges in pivot slips in the first place. If the skis are slipping already, there is no further need to release, hence no occasion to "rise," and no need for a pole swing to facilitate or direct this rise.
Currently, in the Rockies, our description says something like "pole use must complement the mechanics of the maneuver," but we will soon change this to something less likely to confuse, like "pole use must not interfere...."
I will say that many instructors who focus on "rising to release" cause themselves problems. Like I said, rising (extending) does not cause releasing--flattening the skis does. And if rising accompanies this flattening, the release comes not with the rise, but with "having risen." Most instructors who sink to engage the edges, then "rise to release," invariably use a rotary pushoff to get their skis to turn. That is, as they are rising they twist their upper bodies or arms, then transfer that momentum to their skis after they unweight them. This sequence is definitely NOT the "leg steering" that pivot slips are meant to show!
Hints for exam candidates: if you must sink and/or set your edges in a pivot slip, either because you think you have to, or because your examiner defines it that way, then rise to flatten your edges, COUNT TO THREE while sideslipping, THEN pivot your skis, with your legs. DO NOT let yourself pivot during the extension, and separate the movements of extending and pivoting long enough that you cannot use the "1-2" sequence of rotary pushoff.
To initiate the pivot, think of the mantra we have used to help most turns: "right tip right to go right...." If you are sideslipping facing the left side of the trail (right ski is the downhill ski), do not let ANYTHING move until that right tip slips down the hill, "pulling" everything else after it. Don't be afraid to actually let that right tip diverge a little, at least in training (some examiners may prefer that the skis remain parallel, but most are not going to quibble). Above all else, do not let the left (uphill) tail stem out before that right tip steers downhill! Let the inside tip lead the way all the way through the pivot to the next sideslip.
More random thoughts on pivot slips (like Vail SnoPro, I am a big fan of them):
Because the legs rotate in the hip sockets, the pelvis--and everything above it--should NOT turn (much). This means that the upper body, from the pelvis up, should remain facing pretty much down the hill all the time. If the pelvis turns at all, it should only come after the legs have rotated as far as they can--like turning the wheels of a car all the way to the locks. If the hips/upper body turn FIRST and pull the legs and skis SECOND, the dead-wrong mechanics are involved.
Because the legs rotate in the hip sockets, there will be a significant "lead change"--the uphill ski tip will move ahead of the downhill ski tip, to a distance roughly equal to the width of your stance in a straight run. If you stick your ski poles in the snow, say a foot apart, and twist each one separately, the distance between them does not change, does it? This is exactly the way your legs should move beneath your pelvis. Pierre--if you keep your tips "square" (even)--then your pelvis must also rotate, which means you are no longer doing pivot slips! Each foot should travel on a separate straight line down the hill: if you were to straight run a pitch, then go back up and pivot slip from the same point, your feet should stay right on the tracks of your straight run.
I'll try to find some pictures or an animation that shows the pivot slip. Stay tuned....