How to Choose the Right Ski Poles
Ski poles are an important part of your ski setup. Both beginner and advanced skiers can benefit from a proper pair of poles. So, how do you choose the right ski poles? Your poles need to be strong enough to bear your weight when you plant them, light enough so they don’t feel cumbersome throughout the day, and flexible enough to withstand falls without snapping. This guide will walk through all of the things to consider when looking for ski poles.
Do You Really Need Ski Poles?
It is common for people to wonder whether ski poles are even necessary, especially for beginners or skiers that prefer going slow on easy slopes. The short answer is YES. Ski poles help with stability, getting around the mountain, and your overall ski rhythm.
In some beginner lessons, you may start without poles. Ski poles are just one more thing to think about when you’re first learning, so it may be easier at first to just focus on the basics. Once you learn the foundations and become more confident, ski poles will be essential to your setup. Expert skiers spending the day on easier runs or “park” skiers doing tricks in the terrain park sometimes forego poles as well. However, for most skiers it is wise to bring them with you.
How Ski Poles Help Your Performance
- Stability & Balance
Skiers rely on their poles to provide stability and maintain balance. Beginners often use their poles to help them correct slight imbalances as they learn how to shift their weight on skis to turn. Extra stability is also helpful for advanced skiers pushing their boundaries on harder runs.
- Flat Terrain
Picture this. You didn’t get enough speed to ski through a flat section, or traverse, on the mountain. So now you are stuck hundreds of feet away from your destination. We have all unfortunately been there! While snowboarders have to either awkwardly pedal using one foot sideways or just unbuckle and walk, skiers have the luxury of ski poles. You can use your poles to help push yourself along on flat terrain. More advanced skiers use their poles to give themselves a kick start while “skating” to pick up momentum.
- Establishing Rhythm
Skiing, like many sports, is easier (and more fun) when you find a rhythm. Utilizing ski poles can aid in finding that rhythm. As you swing your poles forward and initiate the turn of your skis, your timing starts to become muscle memory. Your legs subconsciously know how to move based on the timing of how and when you move your ski poles. In essence, your ski poles become a focal point of your overall motion, and the trigger that gets your body and skis to move in harmony.
- Pole Planting
A “pole plant” is accomplished by reaching your ski pole out ahead of you, planting it, and then using it as a fulcrum to swing your body through a turn. This is an extremely useful technique in steeper or more difficult terrain because it helps provide additional balance and support.
How to Choose the Right Ski Pole Length
One of the most important things to consider when purchasing ski poles is their size, or length. Thankfully determining the right length is straightforward since it’s based on your height.
Measuring Ski Pole Length
A common rule of thumb is to hold the pole upside down and to grip your hand underneath where the baskets are. Press the top of the poles into the ground. Your elbow and arm should form a 90 degree angle parallel to the ground. If your hand is held higher, the poles are likely too large. Conversely, if you are reaching down, the poles are likely too short.
If you’re shopping online, simply hold your elbow and arm next to your body in the same position as above (forming a right angle, or “L” shape). Measure the distance between your extended hand and the floor. To be the most accurate, make sure to wear your ski boots or some thick-soled shoes when measuring.
The chart below can be used as a quick reference for the general ski pole size needed depending on your height.
Ski Pole Length by Height
|Skier Height||Pole Length in Inches||Pole Length in Centimeters|
|3'5" - 3'8"||34||85|
|3'9" - 4'0"||36||90|
|4'1" - 4'4"||38||95|
|4'5" - 4'8"||40||100|
|4'9" - 5'0"||42||105|
|5'1" - 5'3"||44||110|
|5'4" - 5'6"||46||115|
|5'7" - 5'9"||48||120|
|5'10" - 6'0"||50||125|
|6'1" - 6'3"||52||130|
|6'4" - 6'6"||54||135|
Components of a Ski Pole
Now that you know how to pick the right length, let’s dig into the different features of a ski pole so that you know what to look for. There are a variety of factors to consider for the grips, straps and baskets.
- Plastic: While long lasting and cheap, plastic grips can be slippery when wet and are unforgiving, making them the least comfortable for most people.
- Rubber: Its ability to repel moisture and provide good insulation, which helps prevent cold hands, makes rubber a nice option. These grips also excel at reducing vibration, which is an attractive quality for high impact skiing, such as moguls.
- Cork: Their breathable construction and insulation value make cork grips great in any kind of weather. Also, cork naturally conforms to the fit of your hand over time, creating a very comfortable grip.
- Aluminum: Strong, cheap, and flexible, aluminum ski poles are widely produced and popular. There are varying qualities of aluminum, with the most expensive being lighter and stronger. For many skiers, aluminum ski poles are all you will need.
- Fiberglass: Although lighter than aluminum and cheaper than carbon, fiberglass breaks easily. Fiberglass on its own isn’t a recommended ski pole material. It serves better as a single element within a composite ski pole (see below).
- Carbon: Extremely lightweight and strong, carbon is one of the most superior options. Although more flexible than aluminum, carbon tends to snap when pushed to its limits, whereas aluminum bends. These features come at a price, as carbon ski poles are often the most expensive. Most recreational skiers will not benefit enough from carbon made ski poles to warrant the price tag.
- Composite: This is simply a mixture of multiple materials. For example, some poles come as a mix of carbon and fiberglass to decrease weight without sacrificing too much on durability or affordability. Composite poles are common as vendors try to mix and match the best qualities of several materials to create a well balanced product.
- Bamboo: A recent addition to the ski pole industry, bamboo has made quite a grand entrance. Bamboo is extremely flexible, yet strong and lightweight. Best of all, it’s environmentally friendly! Bamboo is an excellent new option if you don’t mind paying a little extra for a ski pole that you can be proud of. It is not yet widely commercially available, but there are many small, specialized vendors, such as our favorite, Grass Sticks, that sell and distribute them.
- Standard: Smaller in diameter and designed to be as small and light as possible, standard ski baskets work well for most recreational skiers. These are ideal for hard-packed groomers, rather than powder.
- Powder: Wider in diameter and designed to keep the pole afloat, powder baskets are great for backcountry skiing and, you guessed it, powder days. The increased surface area prevents the pole from sinking into the deep snow.
Ski Pole Uses
Suitable ski poles may vary slightly depending on the type of skiing you prefer. Below is some guidance on the best type of ski pole setup based on popular types of skiing.
Groomed & Front Side Skiing
Basic, fixed length, cheap aluminum poles with standard baskets
Fast & Aggresive Resort Skiing
Fixed length, high grade aluminum or carbon poles with standard baskets
Groomed & Off Piste Skiing
Fixed length aluminum or carbon poles with interchangeable baskets
Backcountry Skiing & Touring
Telescoping (adjustable) carbon poles with powder baskets
Freestyle & Terrain Park Skiing
Shorter length, high grade aluminum poles with standard baskets
Ski poles may seem like an afterthought when putting together your ski gear setup, but they have real tangible benefits that can improve your comfort and performance on the mountain. Now you know how to choose the right ski pole length and what kind of useful features to be aware of when considering ski poles. Time to put that knowledge to use!