Ode to a Pole

Ann Vinciguerra's picture

Skiing's unsung gear.

Skiing has worked its way into my life most months of the year, so it's little wonder that gear takes up a good bit of space in my garage and closets. I spend hours researching new technology and talking about gear with friends, dreaming of the newest, lightest backcountry binding, singing the praises of my favorite pair of skis, and hoping to find the perfect pack that I intend to have forever.

Backcountry Skiing Montana
New boots: check. New pants: check. New poles: not so much.

At the same time, certain pieces are essential to the backcountry ski experience, but seldom do I excitedly purchase them or rave about them to my ski partners. This is the life of ski poles. I had never given thought to my ski poles until recently. As I got them out of the garage for the first ski tour of the year, I realized that I have become attached to them. If I lost them, I’d be bummed. The aforementioned poles are a pair of mismatched Black Diamonds, about eight years old. The green one came first, followed by the orange one a year later.

The story of the poles is the result of a backcountry mishap. I won’t go into detail, except to say that it involved an over-anxious ski partner, getting cliffed-out, boot-packing out of a steep chute, and some tight trees on the descent. After a near miss in said trees, one of the green poles was torn from my hand, fell into the deep powder, and was never found.

The next morning I emailed every skier on my contact list hoping that one of them would have an orphaned pole from a similar incident and perhaps would be kind enough to let me adopt their extra. Sure enough, a friend had a spare he was willing to part with and the orange pole paired up with the green pole forming the perfect duo for all of my skiing adventures.

As I look at this photo of the poles in their early days I notice how new and unscratched they are. Now they are showing their age but still work perfectly. One of the baskets fell off and has been replaced, giving the mismatching set mismatching baskets. The orange pole is ever so slightly bent and one of the straps is held together with duct tape. Unlike other pieces of gear, none of this matters and doesn’t leave me seeking out newer, better poles.

Ski PolesMismatched poles—right where they've always been.

I don’t know why I have grown so attached to a pair of ski poles. Maybe it is memories that come with having the set for so many of my adventures over the years; two hut tours in Europe, multiple yurt trips, many unforgettable trips in the Montana backcountry, and deep powder days at Big Sky and Bridger Bowl. Perhaps it is a simple matter of economics. Why would I spend over $100 on something as unexciting as poles, especially while I dream of adding a new backcountry setup to my quiver?

Each year, skis, skins, bindings, and more are tweaked and improved, and new gear makes its way into my life. Yet each ski season the green and orange ski poles are there for me just as they’ve always been. I never wonder if having newer poles will make skiing crumby snow any easier like I might about a pair of skis. I never ask myself “do these old poles make me look dorky?” like I might about an old helmet or jacket. Perhaps it is this simplicity and consistency that has bonded me to them.

In today’s fast-paced, innovation-driven world, isn’t it nice to have something never-changing yet always reliable? I think so. Thank you ski poles.

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