If you have a child who is learning to ski, chances are you’ve been posed with the question, “When can I get poles?” To the kids, who gets poles seems rather arbitrary; it’s like losing a tooth. It eventually happens to all of them, but when and why is a little puzzling.

My five-year old daughter recently got poles. I tried to hold off as long as possible for two significant reasons: 1. Poles cost money and 2. They’re additional things for me to carry. Also, I knew we were going to get them for her eventually, so I thought I’d hold it over her head as long as possible. For one fantastic week, she cleaned her room, shared with her sister and didn’t whine. Then she called our bluff, and we had to buy the poles.

We knew technically, as far as her skiing went, she was ready for poles. You may be thinking that we scrutinized her skiing, carefully evaluating her technical skills to make this determination — actually, we happened to run into her ski instructor on Main Street and asked him if she was ready. He said, “Yes.”

So to the local sport’s store we went. In selecting Mollie’s first pair of poles, we chose a pair of K2 adjustable poles based on three very important factors: 1. They were pink 2. They were the same ones her friend, Ellery, had and 3. The height adjusted so they’d last through a few years and growth spurts.

With poles in hand, she couldn’t wait to ski the next day – another benefit of buying them. On her first run, she immediately skied slower and in the backseat. It became evident that she didn’t really understand how to use them; I still had to pull her across the flats and through the lift line. But, with anything new, it takes a little time and the learning curve is fast. The important things are that she’s excited about her new poles, she’s learning how to use them correctly and they’re pink.

For a better technical understanding of when kids should get poles and how they should first use them, I turned to Kevin Holbrook, a PSIA certified ski instructor with over 20 years combined experience teaching for Vail Mountain and Telluride Ski Resort. Here are some variables Holbrook advises parents to consider before buying poles for their children.

Desire Counts: Holbrook and I agree that poles are like candy; if your kid doesn’t know about them, and isn’t asking for them, then there is no reason to give them to him. “If they’re not bringing them up and there’s no peer pressure, there’s no reason for poles,” Holbrook says.

Responsibility is Essential: Before you give your kids poles, ask, “Is he responsible enough?” Holbrook advises. “If yours is the one who is dropping a glove off the lift, or losing pieces of ski equipment every day, it’s just going to be his ski pole next.”

Logistics Matter: When Holbrook’s youngest son, Leyton, wanted poles, the first thing Holbrook did was  ascertain if he was strong enough. Holbrook also found that Leyton’s gloves were too cumbersome to hold the poles and that the actual pole grip was too thick for Leyton’s littler hands. He ended up shaving the grip down and getting thinner gloves. “Make sure your kid can logistically hold poles,” Holbrook cautions.

Technique is Necessary: After  the basic logistics, Holbrook advises on what technical skills to look for in your child’s skiing. Questions he poses include: Is your kid starting to roll his ankles in the turn? Is he making parallel (sort-of) turns? Can he make, or attempt, a hockey stop? If your child is doing these things, then he is probably ready for poles.

Getting Them and Using Them Are Two Different Things: Holbrook explains that initially, you don’t need to worry about pole plants or how your child is exactly using his poles. The  important thing is that he is holding them safely — either at his side or in front. To teach this, Holbrook starts by planting them in the snow at the back of his child’s binding, then asking his child to grab them and move his hands forward. He warns against the “preying mantis” or “pterodactyl”, a position in which kids ski with their elbows and poles sticking straight out, putting them at risk of hurting themselves if they hit a bump or other obstacle.

According to Holbrook, if your kid is asking for poles, is responsible and moving toward parallel turns, chances are he is ready for poles. Now you just have to decide on the color.

  • lindsey
    Posted at 06:49h, 18 March

    Love it! Whatever gets your child on the chairlift works for me!
    – Ellery’s mom… skittles in pocket

  • Kat
    Posted at 07:29h, 18 March

    Great post! Living in PA and skiing once a year as we do, I’m pretty sure this all means we don’t have to get poles until high school!

  • jesse johnson
    Posted at 07:56h, 18 March

    well timed. Reeve’s first day was yesterday with poles. He had to do a full hockey stop before we gave in. He definitely carries them awkwardly…..