Ski poles. You know you need them – unless you’re one of the new-school freestyle skiers going without these days – but they are often the last piece of ski gear you think about.
Choosing the wrong poles isn’t generally going to ruin your day; however, poles that are too long or too short can lead to the development of bad skiing habits and poles that are too heavy are just less fun.
Buying ski poles is also relatively simple. It’s all a matter of determining the right length poles and then deciding what material you want them made of.
Choosing the right length poles is both critical, and easy.
Traditionally, you’d walk into a ski shop, grab a set of poles, turn them upside down with the grip on the floor and grab the pole with your hand right below the basket. If, while holding the pole like this, your forearm and upper arm form a 90-degree angle, with your forearm parallel to the floor, the pole is the right size for you.
You can do this same measurement at home with a friend’s pole or a stick or whatever. Hold the pole/stick vertical, grasp it with your hand so that your forearm and upper arm form a 90-degree angle (with the forearm parallel to the ground), and measure to the top of your thumb. Then add two inches to the total for the size (in inches) of the poles you need.
These days, freestyle skiers are often using poles that are anywhere from a few inches shorter than traditional all the way up to 10 inches shorter than normal.
Likewise, some freeriders advocate going a couple inches shorter than normal when choosing poles, because shorter poles make it less likely to develop bad habits such as getting your shoulders too far back while skiing.
Back in the day, ski poles were made of a reasonably strong, light, flexible material that literally grew right out of the ground – bamboo.
These days, you pretty much have a choice of aluminum, composite/graphite, and carbon fiber as pole construction materials.
Aluminum poles are typically cheap and reasonably light (low swing weight); however, once bent they can’t easily be bent back into straight.
Composite/graphite poles are also typically cheap, but tend to be a bit heavier (higher swing weight) than aluminum. However, composite/graphite poles have the added benefit of being able to bend (to a degree) without breaking, and snap back into their original straight shape.
Poles with carbon fiber are typically a hybrid of composite/graphite construction, with carbon fiber added for additional strength with less weight. Typically more expensive than the other two materials, the hybrid carbon/composite poles offer the best of both worlds with low weight and the ability to bend without breaking or permanently deforming.
Once you've figured out what length pole you need, and what material you want it made from, you can start considering things like the style of the grips, or the basket on the bottom.
Choose a grip style that is comfortable in your hand - not too big or too small - and grippy enough to hold on to.
The baskets at the bottom of your ski poles can be very important on powder days as they allow you to plant the pole in deep snow without it sinking all the way to the bottom of the snowpack. If you're planning to ski a lot of deep snow, definitely get wider "powder" baskets for your poles (this is typically something you can add later if your poles come with smaller baskets). If you mostly ski groomers, smaller baskets will work just fine.
Check out our selection of ski poles online at SierraSnowboard.com