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Ski poles are used by skiers to improve balance and timing as well as for propulsion. Early ski poles were simply sticks, then bamboo (1930s), then steel (1940s and early 1950s). In 1958, Ed Scott invented the aluminium ski pole. Now, composite ski poles are much lighter and stronger than aluminium poles, though aluminium poles are still one of the main types of ski pole on the market.
In the days before turning techniques had been properly developed, skiers would use poles for hunting: one pole would be for balance/braking and the other pole would have a sharpened tip or a spear head to be used as a spear.
In modern skiing one pole is held in each hand. Near the end of the shaft, there is a circular "basket" attached to stop the pole from sinking significantly into deep snow. These can range from being small, aerodynamic cones used in racing, to large snowflake shaped baskets which are used in powder skiing. Attached to the upper part of the pole is a grip with a strap, either fastened to the pole or detachable. These are usually slipped over the wrist to improve the skiers hold on the grip and to prevent the loss of the pole in the event of a fall. On most poles, the straps, grips, baskets and ferrules (metal tips) are replaceable. When skiing backcountry (off piste), the wrist strap is not normally used, because there is a risk of wrist injury if the pole should catch on an unseen branch or root. Ski jumping, ski carving, aerials and skiboarding are the only types of skiing in which no poles are used.
Cross-country and alpine ski poles
Poles are used in cross-country skiing to enable the user to gain more speed than by using the skis alone, as well as offering improved balance. In Nordic racing, poling technique is essential, especially so during a mass start in which double-poling is the main means of propulsion.
Alpine skiers use poles as well. While they serve the same purposes as they do in cross country, they can also help with the timing of the more advanced ski turns. By making contact with the ground between each turn in a process known as "pole planting", alpine skiers gain stability from the wider range of support and can create rotational acceleration by slowing one side of the body, allowing a tighter turning radius.
There are certain methods to getting the right ski pole. For alpine skiing, the pole is placed with the grip on the ground. The skier then grips the pole right under the basket. The skier's elbow should form a right angle. If the skier's elbow is in a smaller angle the pole is too long, and if the skiers elbow is at an angle larger than 90 degrees, the pole is too short.
Longer poles are used for cross country because of different techniques. Pole length for classic (aka diagonal-stride) technique is typically measured from the ground to the skier's armpit. For skating (aka freestyle) technique the length of the pole is typically from the ground to the skier's upper lip. These length selections balance between maximum thrust and technique considerations. Most Nordic ski pole manufacturers have sizing charts available.
The shortest poles are used in Freestyle (acrobatics by ski), but they can differ depending on the type of Freestyle. Poles used for ski touring are telescopic, therefore they can be shortened or lengthened.
In competitive alpine skiing, including high speed disciplines such as Giant Slalom, Super Giant Slalom, Downhill, and Speed Skiing poles may be designed to bend around the skiers body while in a tuck position, in order to minimize air drag. In Slalom skiing, regular straight poles are preferred due to the reduced speeds and increased reliance on poles.
Nordic ski poles (used for cross-country, biathlons, etc...) are longer than poles used for alpine skiing. Poles used for freestyle are longer than those used for classical skiing. Basket styles at the bottom of the pole vary by pole use. Back-country poles designed for use in deep snow will have a larger basket design, while a racing pole will have a small, lightweight basket. Back country or touring poles may be telescopic so they can be adjusted to snow conditions and/or the steepness of the slope.
Nordic Walking poles are largely similar to composite cross-country ski poles, just shorter in length and with a basket smaller than that of the racing cross country ski pole. The nordic walking pole strap resembles a fingerless glove and is similar to the racing cross country ski pole strap.
There are a wide range of ski poles produced for many different styles and levels of skiing. Notable manufacturers of alpine and nordic poles include Panda Poles, Swix, Rossignol, Start, One Way, Alpina, Leki, Fischer, and K2. The cost of a ski pole can range from $20 for the least expensive recreational pole to hundreds of dollars for extremely light-weight racing poles. Some early ski poles were made from wooden or bamboo shafts, while modern poles are often made from lightweight aluminium tubing, fibreglass, and other specialized materials. In both Nordic and alpine skiing, lightweight composite materials have been used to reduce weight and increase the strength of the pole. Poles made of carbon fibre, or graphite for instance, are very light and durable. There are also new materials such as AirFOIL used by Leki.
Technology used for wrist straps has improved as well, allowing more force from the skier to be transferred to the pole. Some straps are designed to attach securely around a glove, secured with a hook and loop style closure system, i.e. Velcro. Releasable strap systems have been implemented by pole manufacturers as well. For instance, the Trigger system used by Leki has the benefit of safety features that allow the pole to unhook from the straps it is connected to in the case of a crash.
Various types of baskets are available, differing for use on groomed trails, in powder or for roller skiing. Many poles feature methods of easily switching between baskets, such as threading on the basket and pole. On poles without mechanisms for switching easily, a basket can be removed by soaking it in hot water to soften the glue, or via downward impacts, and a new one put on with hot glue.
At the 1985 World Championships in Seefeld Swedish skier Gunde Svan brought his homemade 230 cm ski pole and used it on a training day. Until this date FIS rules did not have a definition for ski poles during competition. Traditionally, ancient Scandinavian hunters skied with one very long ski pole, similar to the pole Svan brought to Seefeld. At this same time FIS was debating the introduction of the skating technique with many traditionalists arguing that it should not be allowed because historically it was not a used technique. Svan's use of the long ski pole was intended to point out the hypocrisy of the traditionalists' argument (ancient Scandinavians did a skating-like technique) . A side-effect of Svan's protest was a FIS definition for ski pole sizing which made this very long "unipole" not legal to use during a competition.
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- "World Champs in Seefeld 1985". Retrieved 11 November 2011.
Media related to Ski poles at Wikimedia Commons