Ski Lines: Poles grant Christmas wish for young skier

Phil Johnson's latest column on the area's ski scene
Rileigh Johnson, with older sister Skyler, is all smiles with her new ski poles.
Rileigh Johnson, with older sister Skyler, is all smiles with her new ski poles.

Categories: Sports

A 7-year-old’s standard Christmas wish?

Two front teeth, of course.

But for frequent ski sidekick Rileigh Johnson, there was another item that was more important to her this year.

Ski poles! Those have been at the top of my granddaughter’s wish list since last winter.

Now, Nordic skiers rely on poles for their cross country jaunts. But Alpine skiers like Rileigh? Who gives much thought to ski poles; they are the Rodney Dangerfield of ski gear, an item so taken for granted to be almost invisible.

Sure they can help with making turns, and they are useful for pushing through flat areas or getting up after a fall. But, for the most part, they are like a comb on the hill, or a napkin an hour after lunch: useful, maybe, but mostly just along for the ride.

On any given day on any given hill, you see young people having fun whether skiing with poles or without. But not having ski poles can be a major issue, especially if your sister Skyler, who is three years older, has them and you don’t.

Ever since she began skiing four winters ago, Rileigh motored down the slopes without poles. At first, she was timid. Then, as she logged more time on snow, she became confident and, before long, she was keeping up with family members who no longer had to wait for her to catch up. The “piece of pizza” snow-plow stance became “French fries” parallel complete with hockey stops.

And, now, Rileigh has poles. Sibling parity!

“You won’t have to pull her across the flats anymore,” said Gary Higley of The Sports Page in Glens Falls when asked about the significance of adding poles to the equipment inventory.

“No more pulling her along in lift lines,” said West Mountain race program director Steve Lathrop who as the father of five should know about such things.

Now for the rest of the package: the pole position to help with balance and pole plants to help with turns. Rileigh’s time has come.

Poles for kids are not a major parental decision. For some young people who prefer snowboards or twin tip skis for terrain park fun, there may never be poles. They would just get in the way. But if you are going to add poles to the gear inventory, here is how to do it, according to Saratoga-based Chris Law who handles the ski poles and other ski-related hardgoods for major manufacturers Salomon and Swix.

  • Size: “Turn the pole upside down, hold your hand under the basket, and your arm should be at a right angle to your body.”
  • Grips: “These should be a loose strap worn around the wrist so the pole stays with you if you fall.”
  • Price: “For a youngster just starting out, a perfectly adequate basic aluminum pole for recreational use should cost between $20 to $30.”

That’s about it. There is no need to wait for test results or magazine recommendations. Just get the right size and you are ready to go.

When do you do it? When you think the person can carry poles along with skis, not forget where they are, and be able to keep a tight grip while riding in a chair lift.

Of course, it may depend if the skier has an older sibling.

Oh, and the two front teeth?

They are on the way.


I found it startling to read last week that at Vail in Colorado, a single-day lift ticket during the recent holiday period cost $209. Some other areas in the Rockies are not far behind.

Now, I understand that major destination resorts aren’t very interested in the single-day ticket purchaser. They want the pass or package client who makes a multi-day commitment. Few people actually pay the top single-day price. But, no matter, there is still sticker shock at work here, especially when the news comes in January which is promoted as Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month across the country.

The answer? Plan ahead and look for deals. They are widely available.

And ski local. Prices are usually much less.


The best aerial skiers and mogul skiers in the world will be in Lake Placid next week for what has become an annual stop on the Freestyle World Cup series. The mogul competition will be Jan. 17-18, at Whiteface.

Both the men’s and women’s events take place mornings on the Wilderness trail. The aerial event is at the spectator friendly Intervale Olympic Jumping Complex Saturday evening, starting at 5 p.m. with fireworks after the competition.


Lapland Lake will host a women’s-only cross country program Saturday at the Nordic center in Benson.

The Lapland Ladies Love To Ski program is from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and is designed for first-timers through intermediate skiers.

Pre-registration is required by phone or at

Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].

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