Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In the days before turning techniques had been properly developed, one long pole was normally used on sloping ground. The skier would lean or sit on the pole in order to increase friction with the ground, so slowing or stopping.
In modern skiing one pole is held in each hand, and each pole has a circular "basket" attached close to the lower end to prevent the pole sinking significantly into deep snow. At the upper end of the pole a strap is attached, which is normally slipped over the wrist to prevent the loss of the pole in the event of a fall. When skiing the backcountry (off piste) in trees, the wrist strap is not normally used, since there is a risk of wrist injury if the pole should catch on an unseen branch or root.
Cross-country and Alpine ski poles
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 are given greater stability as they move their mass down the hill, creating more acceleration and a tighter turning radius.
A ski pole is the correct length for Alpine skiing if, when placed in the snow at rest, the skiers elbow forms a right angle. Longer poles are used for cross-country to enable a longer thrust. Poles used for ski touring may be telescopic, so that they may be adjusted to suit snow conditions or the steepness of the slope.
Some racers in the high speed skiing disciplines (Giant Slalom, Super Giant Slalom, downhill, speed skiing) use curved poles that are bent to shape around their bodies while they are in a tuck position, in order to minimize wind resistance and drag, making them more aerodynamic.
Ski jumping and snowblading are the only varieties of skiing in which no poles are used.
Ski poles are a crucial piece of equipment, though they are frequently ignored. People buying ski gear often spend hours researching the right type and brand of ski, the best type of ski boot, but rarely the poles.
While most average skiers can get away with the run-of-the-mill cheap metal ski poles, more advanced or specialized skiers can benefit from more technologically advanced materials. Poles made of carbon fiber, for instance, are very light and flexible, allowing the poles to bend without breaking, and potentially increasing the speed and accuracy of pole-planting.
There are also more convenient alternatives to the traditional wrist strap - for instance "trigger" mechanisms that will come off in case of a crash to avoid injury.
There is some debate about what styles of poles should be allowed. Swedish skier Gunde Svan added more fuel to the debate by introducing the unipole. During summer training, he sat in a canoe and paddled upstream using two paddles. When he became tired, he switched to just one paddle and found that it was much easier, so he tested skiing using a unipole. Preliminary tests were promising. At a skiing event, he brought his homemade unipole and used it on a training round. Later the same day, the unipole was banned.
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