"The Pole Plant: Part One"
By Craig McNeil
The pole plant is one of the most important aspects of skiing and one that is used the least. It is a critical element of the turn because it helps to gives us our timing for the turn. The pole plant is one element of skiing that most skiers never learn or don’t fully understand. It is one element of traditional ski instruction that is frequently overlooked. Proper use of you ski poles will enhance your turns, help maintain balance and strengthen your technique. If not used properly or done incorrectly the pole plant can throw off not only your turns but your balance, timing and rhythm as well. First before you use your poles you must think about how you hold or carry your hands. The correct position is up and in front of you with the arms away from the body. Most skiers hold the ski poles with the baskets sticking straight out in front, while the arms and elbows clutch the body.
The kinetic chain, or the place where all movements begins in skiing is with the feet. Hence these are the first or the “primary” movements we wants to make. All other movements are secondary. These include movements of the hands and the pole plant. All secondary movements should enhance, not detract from your skiing. What we do with the hands at this point can make the difference between great skiing and disaster. With the hands in the right position you are ready to make the pole plant. The pole plant is critical because it gives us our timing for each turn. There are three things you want to do when you make a turn. These three elements make up the basis for a turn. The first is release, where you release both edges simultaneously to begin your new turn. When you release the edges both skis will flatten to the snow. Once the skis are flat they will want to move towards the fall line or the path that gravity wants to pull you down the hill. As soon as you release the edges, tip the inside or “free” foot to the little toe edge. Once you lighten the free foot and tip to the little toe edge it forces you to balance on the outside or “stance” ski. Draw the feet closer together (free foot to the stance leg) so the boots touch to enhance your balance. This is step two of our turn where you transfer your balance to the new outside ski. Continue to tip the free foot as this action engages the big toe edge of the new stance ski. These three components must be present each time you make a turn. The pole plant is the signal to release both edges and begin the new turn. At the same time you plant the pole, release the edges to begin the new turn. Timing is such that you release the uphill edges of both skis from your old turn, tip the inside or free foot and transfer balance to the new stance ski as you simultaneously make the pole plant. Release your edges at the same time you plant your pole. Where you physically plant the pole in the snow is also important. Think of making your pole plant on the same plane as the fall line. Instead of planting the pole up by your ski tips, make the pole plant down the fall line from your ski boots. The pole plant should be made with a light touch of the basket on the snow. Watch out for stabbing the snow with your poles, as this will affect your upper body. The pole plant should be a light, sensitive touch of the pole basket to the snow. This action should come from the wrist and the wrist only. Simply bring the pole forward from the wrist in one smooth motion. There should be no excess movement with the upper arm. The movement in the pole plant comes from the wrist and hand only. As you plant the pole, allow the hand and wrist to roll forward over the top of the ski pole. This way only the hand and wrist are involved, and you avoid using the arm or twisting the shoulders. Plant the pole and allow it to return to the resting position as you ski past the point of snow contact. Make sure you keep the hand up and in your sight as you let it return to the ready position. Avoid dropping the hand after you plant the pole. When you drop the hand it does two things:
- Relax the arms, bring the elbows away from the body and keep the hands out in front where you can see them.
- Hold the hands so the knuckles face up. From this position the pole baskets will be out to the sides. You should be able to see both hands as you make each turn.
- Your stance should have a slight flex in the knees and ankles, with the weight centered and balanced over the entire foot. The hands held up and in front of you will help maintain a balanced stance through the turn.
- If you don’t think about keeping your hands up where you can see them, or you carry them at your sides your weight will be on your heels or have a tendency to shift backward as gravity pulls you down the hill.
- As with our turns and feet, we have a stance (outside) hand and a free (inside) hand with our ski poles when we make a turn.
- It throws you off balance,
- Causes a pendulum or swinging effect that makes the turn start with the shoulders instead of the feet.
The turn starts with a tipping of the inside foot. When you lift the free foot and tilt to the little toe side, you balance on the outside or stance leg though the turn. Any extra use of the upper body or arms when you plant the pole will disrupt this balance. This is why you want the pole plant to be smooth and subtle without any extraneous motion with the arm or upper body.