Last week we received the question: When should I introduce poles for my young skier. I will attempt to shed light on this tricky question!
The truth is, there is no magic-bullet answer. So much of this decision depends on child’s ski technique, ability to multi-task, handle added responsibility, and also their desire. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that, “the best skiers ski with poles!” Throughout my childhood and frequently during my years competing, my coaches would have us ski without poles. Skiing without poles forces the skier to focus on and master proper turn initiation and form.
My rule of thumb? Wait as long as possible!
Here is a list of thoughts that can hopefully aid you in your decision. As always, the decision is up to you, the parent. Don’t be afraid to tell your kids, “not yet.”
Skiing with Poles
Can your child steer, stop, and comfortably ski most green and blue runs with controlled turns? I would say this is a minimum requirement before you introduce poles. Many ski professionals take it one step further and suggest that kids are making parallel turns, using a “hockey stop” to stop, and using correct turn initiation through their hips and knees (rather than upper body) before introducing poles.
Why? Poles are a huge added factor for kids, especially young children. Simply holding them correctly, without spearing their neighbor, might take all their attention – attention that should be focused on learning good turn habits. Kids may also develop bad habits, like using their upper body (or even their poles) to initiate a turn – a common occurrence even among adults.
Even still, I have my older and more advanced children ski occasionally without poles or holding them out in front. This is a great exercise for working correct turn form.
Most of my children checked the “ski ability” box quite young. And so their ability to handle added responsibility became our main factor in whether they could use poles or not. Here were our guidelines:
- Can the child get on/off a chair lift unassisted with no issues without using poles? If not, no poles.
- Can the child multi-task getting on the lift with one hand, holding poles in the other?
- Can/will the child hold them correctly, hands out in front, with pole tips behind them?
- Is the child aware of their surroundings (for the most part) and not liable to hit someone in the face in the lift line?
However, if you have an older child, age 10+, you might consider starting them with poles right from the start. I’ll be honest, this is mainly due to peer-pressure. Older kids want to look like older kids, not like the toddlers on the bunny hill.
The poles will also help them move on flat terrain and get up when they fall. Older kids have the added ability of multi-tasking.
And lastly, it comes down to desire.
- Does you child want to ski with poles?
- Does your local ski hill have a lot of flat terrain that your child is constantly having to shuffle along?
Maybe poles would make skiing more fun and that is probably the best thing we have going for us in teaching them to ski.
If you child wants to use poles because they see other kids using them, I’d suggest giving them some tangible goals that they can work towards to “earn” the use of poles. These can behavioral or focused on ski technique. Whatever you decide is best for your child!
I hope this helps answer your questions! If you have thoughts or your own experiences, as always, we welcome your comments below!