Ode to the Ski Poles

Backcountry still-life, Beehive Basin
Skis long gone, poles remain

Like many avid skiers in Bozeman, I try to extend my ski season as long as possible each year.  With skiing working its way into my life most months of the year, it is little wonder that ski gear takes up a good bit of space in my garage and closets. Much time is spent researching and talking about gear with friends, and it is with pleasure I dream of the newest, lightest backcountry binding, sing the praises of my favorite pair of skis, find the perfect pack that I intend to have forever. The list goes on and on.

At the same time, certain pieces of gear are essential to the backcountry ski experience but seldom do I excitedly purchase them or rave about them to my ski partners. Thus is the life of the ski pole.  While it is certainly possible to ski without poles, epic days in the backcountry always happen with poles in hand.

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 seven or 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 mishap in the backcountry. I won’t go detail, but the day included an over-anxious ski partner, getting cliffed out and boot packing out of a steep chute, and a wild ride through the trees on the way back to the trailhead. No one was hurt and nothing really bad happened but one of the green poles was torn from my hand after a near miss with a stump, dropped in deep powder and 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 maybe someone would be kind enough to give me their extra. Sure enough I was right and the orange pole paired up with the green pole making the perfect duo for all of my skiing adventures.

Another verison of this story appeared in Outside Bozeman magazine under the title "Ode to a Pole"
The Dynamic Duo

As I look at this photo of the poles in their early days I notice how new and unscratched they look. Now they are showing their age but still work perfectly. One of the baskets fell off and has been replaced giving the set 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.

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 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 want to spend $100+ on something as unexciting as poles, especially while I dream of adding a new backcountry set-up 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 a 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.

News! An updated version of this story appeared in Outside Bozeman! Click here to read it.