Ski Poles - Getting The Right Set For You.
The main purpose of ski poles is to aid a skiers balance and with correct use they can also help maintain rhythm and help making solid turns. They are also used for stability, grip and a forward push when hiking or touring on skis. Ski poles come as a pair and in a range of sizes, the ski pole length relates directly to a skiers height. Most modern ski poles are constructed from either aluminium, fibreglass or carbon fibre and are used in most disciplines of skiing. Ski poles are also extremely good at picking up dropped ski gloves and ejecting you from your skis.
Types of Ski Poles
All mountain poles are durable, light and reliable, they perform well on and off piste in all kinds of snow conditions. Their construction ranges from aluminium to high tech carbon fibre to suit skiers of all abilities.
Race poles are light, rigid and sturdy poles with anatomic grips and wide straps for defined control in speedy conditions. Race poles feature high tech and lightweight materials that can be aerodynamically shaped to reduce drag. Racing poles are often bent so that they curve around the body to achieve an optimal aerodynamic position when the skier is in the tuck position. These pole types typically have smaller baskets to reduce the likelihood of catching on a gate when racing.
Freestyle poles are straight and have wider baskets as they are generally used in soft snow, off piste. Their strong and light shafts make these poles ideal for charging down big slopes. They are generally shorter to allow manoeuvrability when performing spins and other tricks and feature smaller grips to make 'grabs' easier.
Backcountry poles are durable, length adjustable poles that are geared towards touring and skiing in soft, fresh snow. Backcountry poles can be adjusted in length (to allow for ascending/descending) and, for the adventurous, have tools equipped such as an retractable ice axe built into the handle.
The shaft is the main part of a ski pole, generally constructed from either aluminium, fibreglass or carbon fibre. Some ski poles are length adjustable through a telescopic motion and pole locking mechanism.
- Durable, tough and very economical.
- Most commonly found in cheaper, entry level poles.
- More likely to bend and dent, as opposed to snapping or shattering.
- Heavier than carbon fibre.
- Poles are slimmer and lightweight without compromising performance.
- More expensive than other aluminium.
Carbon Fibre / Composite
- Extremely lightweight.
- Shock absorption and rebound are natural properties of the material.
- Features optimal flex and has a spring action that can add power when planting through turns.
- Will to snap rather than bend under extreme pressure.
- Made from a composite of super strong synthetic fibres.
- The carbon fibre is actually woven prior to being sealed with a coating that provides both durability and flex.
- Most expensive.
Ski pole baskets are positioned at the end of the pole and their purpose is to stop the pole sinking too deep into the snow. Baskets come with the ski poles and replacements or alternative models are available.
- Powder Baskets are larger in diameter and the increased surface area prevents the pole from sinking too far into the snow.
- Standard Baskets are smaller in diameter and are designed to be as small and light as possible, whilst still being able to restrict the pole sinking to far into the snow. A smaller basket is perfect for skiing on piste, as it will not sink when pressed into compacted snow.
The tip of the pole is pointed and designed to be able to dig into hard snow and ice easily. In less expensive poles the tip is usually part of the shaft with a metal cap on the bottom, whereas on more expensive poles the tips are replaceable and will snap off under extreme stress. These tips are a separate extension on the bottom of the shaft and are normally made of plastic with a metal tip.
The grip is situated at the top of the pole, serving as a ergonomic handle with indentations for your fingers. Different manufacturers and models of pole will have different grip shapes. A strap is attached to the handle, which can be adapted to fit your hand. To avoid thumb and wrist injuries, the strap should be tight enough to support the heel of your hand. A wrist strap should not be used when backcountry skiing to stop wrist injury if the pole should catch on an unseen branch or root. Basic ski poles will feature plastic grips that are durable but can become slippery when wet. More expensive poles will have composite or cork handles that remain grippy in all conditions.
Size Length Guide
If your ski pole is too long it will cause you to ski on your heels which can result in loss of control and awareness. On the other hand, a pole too short will cause you to be too far forward in your stance with too much weight on your toes and may also hinder balance. It’s important to bear in mind that when deciding on the correct pole size, ski boots will raise your feet off the ground more than normal shoes and that when you put your skis on they will also raise your height by an additional 4cm.
A good method of estimating whether a ski pole is the correct size for you is to hold the pole upside down with the grip on the floor. Your arm should be at a 90° angle when grasping the tip with the bottom of your hand resting on the basket. This will give you with a better idea of how long the pole will be when in use on the snow.