For most skiers, their basic equipment setup includes skis, boots, bindings, and poles.
While all these items are important, it is the ski pole that can fine-tune your skiing performance. Poles help your balance, rhythm, and timing of your turns immensely.
It is important to make sure you put the time in to find the right pole for yourself. There are several factors to consider, such as sizing, the different terrain you may face, the materials of the pole, as well as the grips, straps, and baskets.
A good pole can be the difference between a fine day on the slopes and a great one.
If a ski pole is too short, it will be harder to plant correctly, which can affect your turning. If a pole is too long, it can interfere with your skiing technique and can make your day more difficult.
To figure out the correct length of your ski pole, flip the pole upside down so that the grip touches the ground. Grab just below the basket. If the pole is the right size, your elbow should form a right angle (90°). You will need to choose a different size until your elbow is near 90°. If you are somewhere between sizes, you should go with the shorter size of the two.
Different Poles for Different Terrain
If you are a novice skier, most ski poles will serve you just fine. However, the more advanced you become, the more the pole matters. Intermediate to expert skiers are faced with more variation in terrain, and different poles will work better in different conditions.
If you are a park or pipe skier, you will want to choose a shorter pole. Poles usually come in 2” size differences. You will want to downsize at least one size – 2 inches- so that you don’t catch your poles over and over on halfpipe walls and park obstacles.
Backcountry and powder skiers will also want to choose a shorter pole than standard alpine poles. The last thing you want in the backcountry is to catch your too-long poles on rocks and trees.
Skiers who plan on sticking to the on-mountain trails, especially groomers, can target standard (90° elbow angle) alpine poles. These will supply the most versatility across the mountain, from on-piste steeps to bombing blue runs. Mogul skiers will want to make sure their poles are properly-sized alpine poles, as well, so they can time their turns through the bumps.
Touring skiers need to skin or hike up the mountain and then ski back down. They need long poles for ascending and short poles for the descent. The solution for these skiers is adjustable poles.
Racers have their unique style of ski poles, and they are all about aerodynamics. These poles are often curved and very lightweight.
There are three main types of materials incorporated into ski poles: aluminum, carbon, and composite. The type of material that you decide on will depend on a few factors.
Aluminum poles are by far the most common type of ski pole. Most skiers choose aluminum for its affordability, but also their strength and durability. There is a wide range of quality (and cost) among aluminum poles.
Skiers who choose carbon poles are ready to dish out a bit more money than their aluminum-pole counterparts. Carbon is very light, flexible, and strong. These poles will last a long time and are often narrower than other poles.
Composite ski poles are made of different combinations of metals and plastics. Composite poles perform better than carbon or aluminum in certain terrains, especially hard snow or in the backcountry. This is due to the shock absorption found in composite poles.
The grip of the pole can vary quite a bit. The kind of grip you decide to have on your ski pole usually depends on whether you wear gloves or mittens. Some grips have finger molds so that gloved fingers can fit into the grooves. Skiers who prefer mittens (such as park skiers) generally choose smooth grips, so tricks are easier to complete.
The size of the grip can change, as well. This is usually determined by the type of pole: kids, women’s, or men’s. Kids’ grips are smaller, while men’s grips are usually longer.
Ski pole straps are getting more and more high-tech, but most straps are still of the loop variety. In case you fall, your poles will stay close by. For many alpine skiers, loop straps are tried and true. They serve their purpose well around the entire mountain and are easily removed for riding the chairlift.
Some of the more technologically advanced straps are clickable or have a quick-release capability. This can come in handy in the backcountry or on the racecourse when a skier falls.
The basket on a ski pole can greatly affect the performance of the pole. Baskets all serve the same purpose – to keep the pole from penetrating too far into the snow. The size of the basket can be adapted, though, depending on the type of skier and terrain.
Most poles made for downhill and alpine skiers have small baskets. A majority of the runs within a resort are groomers and shallower snow, so there is no need for large baskets. This also cuts down on unnecessary bulk so skiers can fly around the mountain with ease.
Powder skiers will want to target wider baskets for their poles. Deep fluff requires a lot more surface area on the basket; otherwise, the pole will sink straight down into the powder.
Racers frequently have very small baskets on their poles. Racers are all about aerodynamics, and small baskets are part of that approach.
Ski poles are a critical piece of equipment. Skiers need to decide on the correct size based on their preferred terrain and style. Ski poles are made of different materials, and you should make a choice based on your budget and where you will be skiing. The individual components of the pole – the grip, strap, and basket – should also be considered when you are shopping around for your perfect ski pole.