CORRECT SKI POLE USE: Creating the Perfect Plant        User Agreement

          Every expert skier uses an expert pole plant on every turn. Why? Because the proper use of poles is an extremely important part of being a great skier. Pole use, combined with how tightly you hold them, has a major influence on your skiing. Use a pole wrong and your upper body will never be in position to allow your lower body to stay centered over your skis. 

            Next time you are riding a chairlift observe different skiers as they plant their poles. You will see a variety of styles, most of which are wrong. There is the double pole plant, the one-sided pole plant, the late pole plant, the non-existent pole plant, the across the body pole plant, the row boat pole plant, and my favorite, the knock-the-gates-out-of-the-way pole plant. You know, the one where a skier swings their arms from side to side as if to knock imaginary race gate poles out of their path. 

            To determine if you are using your poles correctly have a friend positioned about 75 to 100 yards directly below you on the ski run. As you ski down to your friend, have him observe your pole plants.  If your friend cannot see eight to twelve inches of light between your pole shafts (or elbows) and the sides of your body at all times, then you need to make an adjustment to your pole plant technique. This is easy to do by making sure your arms are always held chest high and wide, with your hand utilizing the teacup grip to hold your poles.  The teacup grip allows you to flick your pole back and forth using only your wrist.  This helps keep your arms quiet and in the correct position.

            Your entire body is an interconnected string of muscles and joints, and every time you move one part of your body another part must also move, rotate, or somehow change position. For skiers, this means too much upper body movement forces the lower body out of position, making skiing correctly difficult, if not impossible.

            An effective pole plant occurs at the end not the beginning of each turn. Don’t initiate your turn and then plant your pole. To determine if your pole plant is timed correctly, have a friend stand down the hill while watching you make a series of turns on groomed run. If you are observed planting after you begin each turn ask your friend for a little more help. Pick a nice gentle slope and have the friend follow behind you as you ski down the hill. Your partner will shout out the word “plant” as you are finishing each turn.  This will help you speed up your pole plants as you learn to use them to set up the next turn. Also be sure to make your pole plants deliberate yet quick. Think of each plant as a flick, stab, and release sequence.

            With the teacup grip you are able to flick the tip of the pole forward toward your next plant. A good rule of thumb is to always plant your pole at the tip of your  ski. The stab occurs when you extend your elbow until the tip contacts the snow.  To make sure you pole plants remain fluid and flowing from turn to turn always release the plant quickly. At this point you may want to watch this short video demonstration of our pole plant technique. This may be accomplished by a slight recoil of the elbow.   


Figure 7.1 Powder skiing with correct arm placement. Mark Kraley flicks his pole toward the next plant as he floats through the virgin snow at Soldier Mountain, in Idaho.   Notice the fingers of his right hand are closed around the grip to facilitate pulling the tip back to the ready position, while the fingers of his left hand are open to allow the pole to flick forward to the next plant. So it goes, with the fingers; open, close, open, close, open, close..............

            Lastly, you will need to think about the type and length of your poles.  It is generally accepted that the only consideration when buying ski poles is the length. Not true! The type of grip, the grip offset, and the pole swing weight are also very important. These elements of pole design and style are discussed later in chapter 25 on pages 193 and 194 of our Expert Skiing book. For now we will limit this discussion to pole length.

            To determine the correct pole length, you will need to visit your local ski shop.  Place a ski pole upside down with the basket resting on top of your fist and against  your thumb. Bend slightly at the knee, as if in a skiing stance and place the pole grip on the floor just in front of your feet. Make sure the pole shaft is straight up and down as you observe the angle created by your upper arm and forearm. This angle should be ninety degrees with your forearm parallel to the floor. Because shoe heel height can vary from ˝ to 4 inches, I suggest you do this pole measurement while wearing ski boots. Do not do it with bare feet.     

            Using this method to determine pole length will get you very close to the correct length. You can make more precise adjustments to your pole length by making some on-snow observations about your skiing style. 

            If your poles are too long it may be difficult to swing them. You may drag your poles a lot, and in the bumps you will be jamming them into bumps repeatedly. Long poles also can cause you to stand too tall and interfere with your ability to move your body through a cleanly carved turn. If your poles are too short you may ski with a hunched over upper body. A short pole will also cause you to reach out too much to contact the snow resulting in a bizarre skiing style. None of us want that.

            When buying longer poles or cutting your current set down, be sure to proceed with caution. You know the saying: Measure twice and cut once. To apply this logic to ski poles try renting a pair that is closer to the correct length. If this is not convenient, make small rather than large adjustments.  We have been through this process and discovered that ˝ inch can be a big change. Good luck with it.    


  1. Hold arms at chest level and wide, with hands using the teacup grip.

  2. Use only the wrist to flick the pole from plant to plant.

  3. The pole tip always leads the pole to the next plant.

  4. Plant pole tip out at the tip of the ski, creating the correct angle down hill.

  5. Do not drive your hand forward; instead think of it as swinging the pole tip.

  6. Extend your elbow out until the tip contacts the snow.

  7. Release the pole tip from the snow and quickly rotate the wrist downward to bring the pole tip back to the ready position (this is accomplished by closing the fingers around the grip as the wrist flicks downward and back.


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