I'm watching the Olympics. The skiers in the "classic" events like giant slalom or the downhill carry poles. But they never seem to use them for anything. I don't see the poles touch the ground unless it's part of falling. Some of the slalom skiers seem to use the guard on the pole to push the gates aside, but a big rigid glove could maybe serve that purpose. There also seems to be a role in getting back up after falling, but that is not a normal part of a run.
Is it habit or tradition? Does it help them to balance, like the long pole a tightrope walker uses? Is it for the first few strides at the very beginning of the race?
I know that ski jumpers and arials don't use them, so it's certainly possible to get down a hill without poles. What value do they bring?