So, your little ripper has gone from pizza to the hockey stop. They can control their speed and make parallel turns. At this point, you may be wondering if it is time to introduce them to poles, and if so, how to go about it.
There is no set age to introduce poles. Instead, ski instructors will tell you that it depends on a child’s skills, not their age, and starting littles off skiing without poles helps to develop good habits within the fundamentals of skiing. “Young skiers often want poles before they actually need poles,” said Holly Reitsema, a PSIA-certified ski instructor in Summit County, Colo. “You know a young skier is ready for poles when they demonstrate parallel turns on groomed blue terrain.”
Related: How to start your kids skiing
If you think your kiddo is ready based on their skiing ability, here are five tips to help introduce poles to young skiers and teach them to use them the right way.
Hold the Poles Properly
Before you even hit the chairlift, be sure your skier knows how to properly hold the poles. Start by teaching them how to use the pole strap correctly. Guide them to come up through the loop with their hand. Then, show them how to grasp the pole grip and strap together. “When straps are properly used, they can help point the poles downwards,” explains Reitsema.
Hands should be out in front similar to how you hold a steering wheel, “or like reading a newspaper,” Reitsema adds.. Emphasize the importance of not holding the poles straight out, often referred to as the “praying mantis” position. Proper alignment means holding poles in a position that helps maintain balance and initiate turns.
Holding the poles should feel natural and relaxed. The poles should be close to the legs, with the pole baskets pointing towards the heels. “Skiers want to be able to see their hands, and this helps with keeping the poles pointed down,” says Reitsema.
Before handing over poles, make sure your kid can get on and off the lift without assistance. When they’re ready, teach them to remove their poles and how to grip both poles in one hand to load the lift. “I tell my students to hold them in the middle with both poles in one hand, so they may use their other hand to assist them in getting on and off the chair lift,” says Reitsema.
Work on Pole Touches (Taps)
A pole touch, or tap, is a gentle but quick motion. A good way to explain this is to have a child think about the difference between when an object makes a thud or a ping. “I like to tell skiers to think of a pole tap as a turn signal on your car,” says Reitsema. “For example, if you plant/tap your right pole, you are about to make a right turn. You want to plant your pole in the ground and turn around it.”
To do a pole touch, use the wrists to swing the pole basket forward while keeping that hand on the imaginary steering wheel. “I like to show my students this movement while standing still, then by making a right and left turn with a pole touch,” recommends Reitsema.
When turning, have your young skier imagine there is a sleeping animal (maybe a fox or bear) on the outside of each turn, and that they just want to tap their head softly as they touch the snow. Then ski past the tap mark with your hands still forward while the basket trails a bit behind.
Put It All Together Visually
The best way to introduce poles to a young skier is by demonstrating it visually. “Young skiers are very visual learners,” says Reitsema. “Skiers often don’t realize how much they use their upper body and hands when skiing.”
Reitsema recommends that you first show the skier how to hold the poles while standing still. “Have the skier reflect it back to you,” she advises. Once they master how to hold poles properly while standing still, you can move on to the pole swing/ touch. “Show them how to do a pole swing/touch on the right and left side,” she says..
When they can show good technique, head to a gentle slope. “Repeat these steps while moving on your skis,” says Reitsema. Continue to have the skier reflect back to you to show understanding.
Good skiers have a general awareness of surroundings and what is going on around them at all times, from getting on and off the lift to navigating the ski runs. When using poles, safety is a high priority and should be emphasized when introducing poles. Teach kids by example that in crowded situations, including lift lines, poles should be held off to the side. Show them that when getting on the lift, one hand should be holding both poles in the middle while the other hand is used to guide them onto the lift.
When children get tired, dragging their poles is a natural reaction. Young skiers need to comprehend that dragging poles at any time is a safety issue, whether it be while simply walking in their skis, in the liftline, or even tackling easier terrain. If they begin to spider with them, support themselves with poles, or are using the poles as a toy and not a tool, it may be wise to take them away.
New pole users need to recognize that poles should never be used to help a skier stop. While it may be a natural reaction to stick the poles into the snow to try and scrub speed and gain control, this is very dangerous and more often results in a skier tripping, falling and possibly injuring themselves. Make clear that they should always ski in control and use their skis and turns to slow them down.
Introduce Poles Slowly
Start those early days of using poles by doing a few runs without poles to get your skier into the rhythm of parallel turns. Begin using poles on easy terrain, emphasizing proper alignment and pole touch placement. Focus should be on technique and safety during the earliest phases of introducing poles. “When I introduce poles, I take students back to easier terrain to learn skills such as pole plants/touches before using poles on the harder terrain they might have been skiing on before,” says Reitsema. As your skier gets more comfortable with using the poles, you can begin to introduce proper technique on steeper terrain and bumps.