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Ski Tips: Upper body position starts with pole planting

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Watch this video for pro skier Dan Egan’s helpful tips on proper pole planting and body mechanics.

By Dan Egan EBS Columnist

It is amazing to remember when I released my first book, “All Terrain Skiing” in 1996, as the world was very different in both technology and in ski technique. As a matter of fact the original version of the book didn’t even address carving or shaped or powder skis. However, as the adage goes, “the more things change the more they stay the same” and for most of ski technique that has remained true. 

This is why I’m now releasing “All Terrain Skiing Vol II.” It is an integrated, self-contained program for beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers who want to ski better. The book is organized for progressive learning. There are 38 drills along with an app complete with videos for on-slope learning. At the heart of the program are the videos that illustrate each drill, for ready reference. 

What I see in many of the skiers who take my camps and clinics is they are relying too much on the equipment to do the work and not enough on their body mechanics. This often reveals itself as fatigue, lack of balance in varying conditions and can make challenging terrain a struggle. As a result, I still teach many of the skills and drills found in “All Terrain Skiing” because they refocus the energy on movement rather than steering or skidding the ski.  

When we focus on body mechanics skiers adapt better when they encounter changes in speed, terrain, conditions, and situations. If you keep these four principles in mind, you’ll soon be skiing better:

  • Good balance
  • Powerful stance with shoulders square to the hill
  • Eyes focused up or down the hill
  • Proper hand position

Let’s focus on the last one first, “Proper hand position” and pole planting from “All Terrain Skiing Vol II.” This drill is from the Upper Body Section and is called “Pole Point,” the goal is to develop a proper pole plant and hand position. Start by holding your poles with both index fingers pointed straight out, perpendicular to the slope.

To practice proper hand, arm, and upper body position, you can learn how to use the poles properly. The Pole Point drill is intended to do just that. Get yourself on a comfortable slope with your hands holding your poles out in front of your body in a relaxed position. Now, point your index fingers downhill, right at the place where you’re looking. Keep your head up, shoulders square to the hill.

Begin skiing the fall line. As you move forward, extend the tip of one pole by cocking your wrist so that your index finger points up. Plant the tip of the pole in the snow. As you do so, your index finger will level out. Ski by the tip of the pole so that your index finger is pointing down at the snow. When you’re ready to turn, repeat the motion with the other pole. You don’t need to swing your whole upper body, or stab at the snow. The important motion is the snap of the wrist. Keep your index fingers pointed to give you a reference for the proper motion.

As illustrated in the video, linked here, develop a smooth, easy motion using your wrists—not your shoulders. Plant one pole tip, then move your arm forward to the extent of your reach. Point the opposite pole tip out in front of your body and repeat the motion. Chant this mantra: Point, plant, push. Continue this smooth, rhythmic motion until you have a natural feeling of wrist movement. Notice how your shoulders stay square to the hill and do not rotate. Notice how your arms stay bent in a relaxed way, moving forward and backward as your poles and index fingers point the way down the hill. Keep pointing until the motion becomes muscle memory. You can practice this motion on or off the snow. Mastering this drill will allow you to use your poles instinctively.

“Pole Point” further emphasizes the isolation and separation of body parts—in this case, the arms and wrists. Notice how, because of the previous drills where you did not use your poles, they have become a natural extension of your body. Also note that when you didn’t use your poles, you held your hands out in front of your body. This drill reminds you to always keep your hands out in front where you can see and use them. You’ll now be skiing more naturally, and your body will have the confidence to relax and enjoy the ride.


Extreme skiing pioneer Dan Egan coaches and teaches at Big Sky Resort during the winter. His 2022 steeps camps at Big Sky Resort run Feb. 24-26, March 10-12 and March 17-19. His newest book, “Thirty Years in a White Haze,” was released in March 2021 and is available at White-Haze.com. Visit Dan-Egan.com to preorder “All Terrain Vol. II.”

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