Skiing Without Poles: How, Why, & When?

by Simon Naylor | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

Take a moment and picture a skier in your mind. How do they look? First off they are probably wearing warm clothing, including a large coat, as well as a hat and gloves. Maybe they have goggles and a helmet on. They’re in ski boots, and they’re already snapped into their skis. Just as important, they are holding ski poles. Ski poles are always part of the serious skier ensemble. But are ski poles essential?

It is possible and sometimes advisable to ski without poles. It is sometimes recommended for beginners or children to ski without poles so that they don’t rely too much on them. Ditching the poles from the beginning forces a new skier to train his body to balance.

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Why You Should Pass on the Poles

While learning how to ski with poles is eventually necessary to developing proper technique, skiing without poles is often beneficial to focus on other ski fundamentals. New skiers and children tend to put too much weight on poles and rely too heavily on them for balance. So if you are a beginner, or if you are teaching your child to ski, consider starting without poles.

More advanced skiers choose to ski without poles to improve their skills further and to have more control in freestyle skiing.

When You Should Consider Skiing Without Poles

1. Teaching Children to Ski

If your children are under the age of five, you should consider passing on giving them poles. In fact, most ski schools won’t start young children with poles. Instead, they want children to be able to focus on how they are using their feet to change directions. Proper turning techniques will only come with the practice that forces you to rely on your lower body.

Additionally, it is easy for kids to get up after they fall without having to rely on poles. For many children, the extra coordination required by poles is too much and unnatural at the start. Once a child can control the skis and preform proper turns, poles can be introduced at a later time to help with their timing and rhythm.

2. To Learn Better Control

Even adults may need to break away from the poles from time to time. Ski instructors often notice that many skiers over-depend on their poles for balance. When you leave the poles in the lodge once and a while, it can help you to break these bad habits and prevent you from being held back from progressing in your skills.

Not using poles forces your legs and hips to do all the work and for your body to find its center of mass. As you learn to rely on your lower body for balance and control, you will be a better skier once you start using the poles again.

While poles help you balance in the sense that they keep you from falling, they don’t improve the posture or position in which you ski.

3. When Learning to Stop Correctly

Another way poles could prove to be more of a crutch than enhance your skill is if you’re using your poles to come to a stop. If you are using your poles to slow down or to completely stop means you do not know how to use them correctly. Doing this can not only damage your equipment, but it can be extremely dangerous.

Skiing without poles forces you to learn how to stop correctly and safely slow down and come to a complete stop. It will not only make you more confident while skiing, but it will keep you and other skiers safe from accidents that could be prevented with a quick, skillful stop.

4. To Rethink (or Stop Thinking) About Your Hand Position

Holding onto poles can sometimes cause new skiers to focus too much on what their hands are doing. Poles can often cause your hands and elbows to fall behind. If this happens, it is much easier to lose your balance. Other skiers might hold their hands too high or squeeze the pole too tight.

If you find yourself doing this, it may be the reason that you struggle to stay in control or keep your balance. Ditching the poles will take your mind off what your hands are doing, and they will naturally fall into place as you concentrate your overall form.

Another mistake new skiers often make with poles is they think they need to see the poles hitting the ground. When you look down as you ski, you lose balance and put pressure on your back, neck, and shoulders. The uncomfortable position will only make movements rigid, and your body will get worn out, limiting movement more so.

Instead, hands should always be slightly bent and in front of you. It is much like riding a bicycle with your hands not much wider than your shoulders. They should never be lowered or move to the right or left as your body turns. Once you can master this position with your hands and arms, poles will help you keep time.

5. To Make the Most of the Terrain Park

Beginners aren’t the only ones losing the poles on the slopes. Downhill skiing has evolved over the years from focusing on speed and navigating moguls to freestyle and trick skiing in the terrain park.

Many skiers have transitioned to skiing without poles in the terrain park to hit the rails and jumps. Freestyle skiing can be improved by ditching the poles. Doing so allows more control for tricks as skiers have two fewer items to worry about during the execution of a move. It also makes the moves look smoother and more concise.

How Can You Ski Without Poles?

If you are a beginner, then you should start by getting used to moving around on the skis. Learning the basics of steering and stopping is the first step. By starting without poles, you will be forced to learn to use the lower half of your bod for control.

Some instructors teach children to place their hands on their bent knees as they learn without poles. By placing your hands on your knees, it ensures that your body is in the ideal position to control turns and stay balanced.

Others recommend holding one ski pole horizontally in front of you with both hands so that your arms are the correct height and width apart.

If you are already a skilled skier and are thinking of leaving the poles behind for better freedom in the terrain park, you should have no problem controlling your turns and stops without them. Not having poles will also help you see how you can improve in your form.

Should You Use Poles Or Not?

Using poles is necessary for keeping timing and rhythm, especially when skiing steep terrain or moguls. However, if you are just learning to ski, your child is skiing for the first time, or you wish to improve your abilities in the terrain park, leaving the skis at home could help you grow.

Use the time without poles to enhance your form and to break bad habits. Then when you reintroduce poles, you will see significant progress in the quality and ease of skiing.

Skiing Without Pole Straps?

When backcountry skiing, many experts recommend removing straps for safety so that the poles don't get caught up in a tree or foilage and pull your hand - causing injury.