A lot of the push is in grip of ski poles

In cross-county skiing, pole action accounts for about 25 percent of the skier's propulsion. And John Wiggin, a naturalist who runs the Woodstock (Vt.) Ski Touring Center, says that holding the poles correctly means much in obtaining maximum efficiency and comfort.

Did you know that there is a very definite right and left cross- country ski pole? You can tell by where the lower strap leaves the pole grip. It should loop out to the thumb side of each hand. Wearing the straps in a half twist so that they fit snugly against the wrists, right pole in right hand, makes for comfort.

Wiggin says to cinch the adjustable strap, which all good poles have, snugly around "a not-too-bulky mitten or glove." It should fit tightly but not so tightly that you can only grip the top of the pole. Too loose, however, and your rhythm can be thrown off each time the pole slips from your grip.

Reach up through the hanging strap, drop the hand on top of the strap and grip the pole handle. And here Wiggin notes the difference between the knowledgeable and the clunkers. Hold the pole only with the thumb and adjacent two fingers.

"A five-fingered, white-knuckle grip is not only unnecessary but it prevents a full extension to the rear when poling," he advises.

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