Sometimes they can be a big nuisance, especially getting on and off chairlifts, but they are generally useful in many ways.

Ski poles help propel skiers across the flats, help skiers through the maze of chairlift lines, and help them get back up after falling.

While those uses are important, probably the most important function of poles - at least for advanced skiers -  is to help in turns. Pole plants are an important element in establishing rhythm in a series of linked turns down the hill. Plant, turn; plant, turn; and so on.

Another use came when Hannes Scheider, the famous Austrian ski instructor, came to Cranmore Mountain in North Conway, N.H., in 1939. The area's ski instructors greeted him at the train station, and formed an arch with their ski poles for Schneider to walk through.

When I was first learning to make linked turns, long ago, two different instructors gave me two different pieces of advice about pole plants.

One said, "Plant the pole at the end of the down motion that finishes a turn, and then begin to rise."

The other said, "Plant the pole at the top of the up motion in the middle of a turn, and then begin to go down."

I pointed out the discrepancy to the head of the ski school, and a lively discussion followed among all instructors. They almost came to blows over which technique was proper. The outcome was simple: The head of the ski school forbade all discussion of when to plant the poles.

Question: What are ski poles for?