It's a Thursday afternoon, and even though you should be working, you can't help but steal a glance at the snowfall rates at your favorite ski spots. When you discover that good skiing is to be had, you hatch a plan: call in sick on Friday, catch a cheap flight and make a weekend out of rushing down snow-covered mountains by day and lounging in front of roaring fires with hot chocolate by night.
Packing for such a spur-of-the-moment trip can present special challenges to ski aficionados. While every sport requires its own set of shoes or accessories, snow skiing requires a long list of gear, from skis and boots to long underwear and ski suits. More and more skiers are bringing along a helmet as well; a 2008 survey found that 43 percent of U.S. skiers and snowboarders now wear protective headgear, compared to just 25 percent in 2003 [source: Spellman, Hanna].
While safety advocates are still trying to persuade skiers to wear helmets for safety reasons, there are two pieces of equipment that most ski bunnies reach for automatically: ski poles and ski goggles. What do these pieces of ski equipment do, and why are they essential to a snow skier's get-up? Before you rush off for that ski chalet getaway, let's take a closer look.
Some people name their cars; if you're looking to name your ski poles, you might consider the names Georg Bilgeri and Ed Scott. Both men were incredibly influential in the development and use of ski poles.
Georg Bilgeri was an Austrian army official, a co-worker of the famed ski instructor Mathias Zdarsky. Zdarsky taught Austrian troops to ski with just one pole, which was standard prior to the year 1905 [source: Fry, "1905"]. Zdarsky believed that a good skier needed just one pole, which would serve both as a propelling force and as a steering device. Bilgeri countered that a pole in each hand would allow for more efficient turns. Zdarsky treated Bilgeri with derision, even challenging him to a duel [source: Fry, "1905"].
Bilgeri's method won out, but we have Ed Scott to thank for making ski poles user-friendly. Ski poles used to be extremely heavy; Scott said they were "as heavy as a croquet mallet" [source: Fry, "Poles Apart"]. Scott created a thinner, lighter pole that makes fast turns as simple as pie.
But are poles completely necessary? Not necessarily -- you could ski without them, and some ski instructors believe that misuse of poles can encourage bad habits, such as not using the lower body to initiate and make turns [sources: Nelson; Rogan, Campbell]. When used properly, however, ski poles can provide stability, momentum and balance on the slopes.
Every ski run presents many threats to your eyes. Sunlight and the glare from the snow can be blinding, as can falling snow and a blustery wind. That's why it's important to wear goggles on the slopes. When it comes to goggles, though, one size doesn't fit all, and it's important to wear the pair that fits well and is designed for the conditions you'll be skiing in. Wearing a pair of ill-fitting goggles can be just as dangerous as not wearing goggles at all.
When shopping for ski goggles, consider where and when you'll be doing most of your skiing. Some goggles are designed for bright light, so they tint accordingly, while others are meant for low-light conditions. Bring along the hat or helmet you'll be wearing while skiing to ensure a proper fit, and if you wear glasses, look for goggles designed to fit over your lenses. A good-fitting pair won't have any gaps where snow or moisture could get in. When trying on goggles, ensure that you have a wide field of vision; you'll need that vital peripheral vision to spot skiers veering into your path.
Goggles that fit well have a lesser chance of fogging up, but look for a pair with antifog coating or a ventilation system (such as a tiny fan) to ensure that they don't. In addition to antifog coating, goggles should also provide protection from UV rays. With the right pair of protective goggles, you'll always have the finish line in sight.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Brody, Jane E. "Personal Health." New York Times. March 5, 1986. (Nov. 19, 2009)http://www.nytimes.com/1986/03/05/garden/personal-health-308986.html
- Chang, Louise. "8 Winter Steps for Healthy Living." WebMD. (Nov. 19, 2009)http://women.webmd.com/features/8-winter-steps-for-healthy-living
- Fry, John. "1905." Ski. September 2006.
- Fry, John. "Poles Apart." Ski. September 2009.
- Nelson, Janet. "Letting Go; Skiing Without Poles." New York Times. March 19, 1990. (Nov. 19, 2009) http://www.nytimes.com/1990/03/19/sports/on-your-own-letting-go-skiing-without-poles.html
- Olsson, Helen. "Vision Quest." Skiing. October 2004.
- Pennington, Bill. "Showing Young Skiers That 'Really Cool' Athletes Wear Helmets." New York Times. Jan. 26, 2007. (Nov. 19, 2009)http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/01/26/travel/escapes/26ski.html
- Rogan, Michael and Stu Campbell. "Turning Points." Ski. March/April 2008.
- "Skiing." Encyclopedia Britannica. (Nov. 19, 2009)http://www.library.eb.com/eb/article-274195
- Spellman, Jim and Jason Hanna. "Skiers can cut risks by wearing helmets, experts say." CNN. March 19, 2009. (Nov. 19, 2009)http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/03/19/ski.safety/index.html
- Stedman, Ted A. "Seeing Clearly." Ski. November 2002.
- Tolme, Paul. "These Poles Are Made for Walking." Newsweek. Nov. 19, 2007.
- Wadyka, Sally. "Gear Test with Nate Carey, Ski Instructor: Goggles With an Eye on Technology." New York Times. Feb. 9, 2006. (Nov. 19, 2009)http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F05E5DB143EF93AA35751C0A9609C8B63