Can You Ski Without Poles?

Well, the short answer is: you can ski without poles. It’s not always recommended for tougher areas, but there are quite a few styles or situations where they simply aren’t necessary.

At the end of the day, whether you go out with sticks or not is up to you. Just know that if you do ride off-piste or in the backcountry, they can go a long way.

Can You Ski Without Poles

In the following guide, we will take an in-depth look at ski poles as well as why you may or may not need them when you ski.

The Reason for Ski Poles

Before breaking down why you would or wouldn’t use poles while you’re skiing, we first need to analyze why skiers use poles in the first place. They may seem a bit unnecessary, and in some cases, they may even hold skiers back, but they do serve a few critical functions.

The main reason skiers have poles is that they provide balance on runs. Being able to get more traction in the snow not only helps you stay upright, but also keeps you in step as you move around sharp turns or zip between different obstacles.

At certain times you may hit a rough patch where, rather than falling, your poles keep you going. Beyond that, poles keep you in rhythm and help with general timing. A big part of skiing is getting a general flow as you move.

Poles aid in that endeavor by providing you with more support as you move from curve to curve. That extra bit of balance comes in handy in a range of different environments. They can push you forward and help generate extra speed as well.

Who Needs (or Doesn’t Need) Poles?

So, the big question here is, do you need to use poles when you ski? In short, no.

There are many people who ski without them, and there’s nothing wrong with just getting in your skis and heading out to the mountain.

However, that’s largely an oversimplification of a more complex question. Certain skiers use them, and others don’t. It’s those differences that we want to explore here.

First, younger skiers or people just learning don’t use or need poles. As useful as the items can be in different situations, they can also get in the way for skiers who don’t know what they’re doing and unnecessarily complicate the learning process.

Rather than having another distraction, many ski instructors will simply forgo poles altogether and let newcomers focus more on fundamentals or basic balance first. They can then learn to use poles later on once they have a much better idea of how to handle themselves on the mountain.

For older or more experienced skiers, poles tend to be on a discipline-by-discipline basis. That’s to say, it entirely depends on personal preference as well as what style they’re skiing. Some people love using poles in just about every situation, while others never use them regardless of where they are or what terrain they’re on.

In general, poles aren’t that necessary on groomers. Some park skiers also choose to avoid poles because they find they get in the way of their moves.

However, most people who venture out into the backcountry or need help on tough terrain use poles as both a way to balance and as walking aids. The ability to push off is also essential in cross country skiing to ensure you can move at a steady pace.

It’s also worth noting that, while you can go without poles on steeps or bumps, it’s often not a good idea. That’s because, without the ability to easily pivot between turns or better distribute your weight, you put a lot of stress on your knees. That can then lead to injuries down the line.

Of course, without proper balance, it’s easier to fall in tough terrain as well.

The Right Poles for You

If you do want to ski with poles, or if you’re someone who needs to use them, there are quite a few different options out there. When choosing a pair, be sure to get ones that work specifically for your body type and skiing style.

When choosing poles, you typically get to pick between the construction of carbon fiber, fiberglass, or aluminum. Each has its own pros and cons. Some are heavier and more durable, while others are lighter but not as strong. If you don’t mind paying more, you can get tough-but-lightweight models as well.

If you like to ski in a way where speed matters, you should try to get lighter poles. The same goes if you need to cover long distances or don’t want to add a lot of extra weight to your ensemble.

In contrast, heavy poles can be a good idea if you like to plow through tough terrain or push through harder-to-reach areas. Find the ones that best fit you.

Final Words

When most people imagine ski gear, they likely think of a fully-outfitted racer zipping down the mountain. There are many parts that go with that outfit, and one of the most iconic is ski poles.

The sticks are one of the more well-known pieces of a skiing ensemble, and for good reason. They serve quite a few important functions that help you on the slopes. However, just because poles are important, doesn’t mean they are completely necessary to all skiers.

Do you ski without poles? If not, have you ever had a situation where you didn’t? Let me know in the comment section below.

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  • Eric Thompson

    Hi Christine, this is my first full year skiing and I feel I get better every time I go . When I first started in late winter last year I took lessons, and the instructor taught me to ski without poles. Now I am getting better, and I ski with a good friend. He told me your technique is really good, but you have to learn to ski with poles. I have a pair,but I really don’t know what there used for, and don’t know how to use them. I’m going to take lessons on how to do it, but I want to somewhat know what I’m doing before my lesson. I’ve moved up I’m my skill level thanks to my daughter, and my friend. I’m skiing almost all blue runs ,and running a few black diamonds.,and I realize I need poles to do this . Can you kind of tip me off in what to expect when I take my ski lesson?

    • Christine

      Hey Eric,

      I definitely recommend skiing with poles, especially on more challenging terrain. As far as what to expect during your lesson – it’s really just getting a feel for things since you haven’t been using them so far. You might need to spend some time working on your balance and stance with poles versus how you’ve been skiing without them. A good instructor will help you navigate this. Don’t be too worried about it though, it’s really not that complicated, and you’ll do better on those blues and blacks once you get the hang of them.

  • Rachel

    I’ve been skiing for 40 years, and I’ve skied without poles since teaching my kids to ski 15 years ago. I spent several seasons skiing with a kid between my skis, and later juggling multiple sets of skis to and from the parking lot was just easier with no poles. So I’m very accustomed to the no-poles approach, and here’s some of what I’ve learned:
    – without poles to propel yourself across the flats, you must be able to skate well (but it’s great exercise!)
    – in some lift lines (mostly when it’s crowded), I may pop off a ski so I don’t slide into folks (just click back in once you get to the front of the line)
    – I find I’m better able to focus on how my shoulders/upper body alignment than when I do use poles
    – I never lose my poles! 🙂

    All that said, I ski mostly (east coast) blues and blacks, and I don’t do moguls anymore. I agree that for the really steep stuff and/or big bumps, poles are a must for managing weight distribution.

    • Christine

      Hi Rachel,

      That’s pretty amazing you’ve been skiing without poles for so long and it shows that it’s totally doable. It’s somewhat of a personal preference thing, I guess! Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks here, I’m sure other no-polers will find it useful!

  • Eric Thompson

    I am currently learning to ski, and I remember my first lesson. I rented my skis, and boots, and I grabbed a pair of poles.I got to the bunny hill, and the instructor says to me. First time on skis? I told him yes. He says to me, then tell me how the ski poles work. I said I have no idea. Then he said for a true beginner like you their only use is to sit in the snow drift, at the bottom of the hill. We went up the hill. He tells me arms at your side or out in front of you. We did the pizza, and french fries. Then learned to make some turns. All without poles. I took 3 lessons, and probably went out with my daughter about 7 to 10 times. When my 3rd lesson came around. My skiing had improved dramatically. The instructor told me. Next year when we work on your skiing. We’ll show you how to use poles. Which kind of throws me for a loop. Because I am comfortable skiing without poles, and have no idea how to use them, but I am going to be skiing bigger hills next season, and poles will probably be an asset. I live in Michigan. We don’t have mountains, but we have very high hills, and they offer good skiing and I have skied one of them already, and had a blast, but I did the green runs, but next year I want to do some of the blue runs. That’s going require all my talent, and probably knowledge of how to use poles. You and my instructor have been a wealth of information, any suggestions? Because this is a fun ride,and I want to be the best I can be.