Ski poles related injuries are very uncommon. The most common ski injury now is not broken legs, but torn or ripped ligaments. Releasable bindings properly set can prevent most injuries: having a hand lashed to a pole can constrain arm movements, limiting self-rescue techniques like swimming to safety, pulling an airbag trigger or digging out. Then there’s the added danger of poles functioning as anchors in a slide, effectively dragging a victim into the depths of cascading debris.
The risks of using pole straps aren’t only limited to avalanche terrain; they can also add to the dangers of falling into a tree well. Acting as restraints, pole straps can impede a tree-well victim’s ability to dig out or create an air pocket while waiting for help. Snow Immersion Suffocation (SIS) is most often responsible for the deaths of skiers and snowboarders when they fall into the area near a tree that is full of unconsolidated snow. There were 35 deaths between 2006-2016, with an average of 3.5 deaths per year. Removing pole straps in off-piste terrain is a good prevention strategy to employ.
Secondary injuries can occur when using pole straps in the backcountry, too. Brian Warren, Senior Guide & Winter Director at Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, recounts a friend’s experience skiing low-angle trees in the Tetons. “The track was fast through tight trees,” Warren says. “He had pole straps on, and his baskets got caught in thick alder. The pole stuck immediately and ripped his body to the ground, dislocating his shoulder.”
For a complete analysis on benefits and dangers of ski pole strap, check the link: When to use pole straps