Pole straps can be a life saver. Take a tumble, and rather than watching your poles slide away into the abyss, the stay right with you. Need to check your phone on the side of a trail? Just drop your pole, it’ll stay right with you. You can lean on the straps for a bit of rest, or you can use them to provide a little extra boost while pushing across a cat track. All in all, there’s a reason they’re there, and if they’re on your poles, you might as well use them… right?
Unfortunately, while pole straps may seem extremely convenient, they have the opportunity to do a lot more harm than good. There’s a decent chance you aren’t wearing your ski pole straps the correct way, and even if you are, you might be wearing them in some very risky conditions. So should you be considering alternative systems, or should you completely remove the straps from your poles? When is it safe to use the straps, and when is it risking your life?
The number one most important thing to remember is to take off your pole straps when you’re in avalanche terrain. While deep powder might encourage you to find a way to ensure your poles won’t be lost when you accidentally let go of them, pole straps can be really harmful in the case of a slide. According to the Utah Avalanche Center, the moving snow has the potential to pull your poles away from your body, taking your arms with them when wearing the straps. They also have the potential to pull you deeper into the debris, just like your skis (your skis have a release system, but your poles, with the straps on, likely won’t).
Tree skiing can also pose a pretty solid threat to skiers wearing straps. If you’re cruising through glades, and your pole catches a branch or bush, there’s a decent chance you could end up with a dislocated arm or shoulder. That goes for any terrain where your poles could catch on an object, really.
Crashing while skiing with poles creates the risk of “skier’s thumb”, and injury caused by an impact between your thumb and pole. According to PubMed, removing the pole strap doesn’t actually reduce the incidence of the injury, and the only way to reduce the risk is by training yourself to ditch your poles in the case of a fall.
Some people, however, claim that the way you wear your ski poles can increase or decrease the risk of skier’s thumb. Rather than simply putting your hand through the loop and grabbing the pole, it’s recommended that you put your hand up through the loop and hold both the pole and strap in one grip. In theory, this changed grip would remove the remove the pole grip from the range of your hand in the case of a fall. Some pole straps, though, aren’t really long enough for this, and it really comes down to opinion and comfort.
So, should you wear your pole straps at all, or should you just completely forget about them? Utah Avalanche Center recommends completely removing the straps from your pole, not even bothering with them anymore. There are some pretty sweet pole/pole strap options like Leki’s trigger system, which is meant to release in the case of an accident and could provide a safer alternative while still allowing you to wear straps.
Personally, I like my pole straps, and I fully intend to continue wearing them when I’m riding on open, non-avalanche terrain. They’re a comfort thing, in my opinion, and I like knowing that I can let go of them without risking having to hike back up to grab them again. But you should definitely know when it’s important to ditch them.
NO MATTER THE POLE STRAP SYSTEM YOU HAVE, PLEASE DON’T WEAR YOUR POLE STRAPS IN AVALANCHE TERRAIN. IF YOU AREN’ CERTAIN, DON’T WEAR THEM.
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