And so the story of the ski pole or ski stick or alpenstock strides on in our new snow sport world. Specialized poles for racing, both downhill and Nordic, weighing but a few grams, and now made of carbon fiber instead of tonkin cane are continually being developed and tested-out in the cauldron of competition.
The demands of the Paralympics and skiers with special needs have led to the creation of a forest of uniquely designed adaptive poles with the one goal of getting these skiers out on the hills and lending support – and a push when it is needed.
There are now pocket, collapsible, poles for snowboarders (to leverage themselves off some of those inevitable flats), and a uni-pole that has been tried out by a Scandinavian cross-country racer with disappointing results (the pole was banned). What goes around comes around, apparently.
Today back-country skiers routinely use telescoping poles on their treks to adjust for slope and snow depth. According to Doug Pfeiffer, former editor of Skiing magazine, this idea dates back to the forties when he used a pair in the Canadian Rockies on long climbing traverses. It was, he said, very convenient for the uphill pole to be made shorter than the downhill pole.
With the popularity of carving turns, both on skis and snowboards, there is a trend to diminish the use of poles by skiers. But this applies mainly to the groomed slopes, and certain powder runs.
Skiers continue to carry poles, and they come in handy on moguls, in the glades, in the lift line, or simply getting up after a fall. But some older skiers have found, to their dismay, that pole planting has to be limited to avoid uncomfortable shoulder pain.
There have been poles with flasks in their hollow shafts for a little liquid libation. Poles with a convenient screw hidden in the grip to use as a camera monopod.
Poles have come in handy in the spring propping up ski tips when solar rays are beckoning and a handy lounge chair is the ticket. They have also served as bipods and tent poles and stretcher poles for ski troopers.
Sometimes they get betwixt and between when attempting a kick turn (but then who does a kick turn nowadays). Would we trade them in?
Long hickory glides on our feet have allowed us skim across the frosted H2O as gods, but the development of skiing may well have lacked impetus without the pole’s prop and spur.