A skier is naked without their poles as these crucial accessories help create balance, better rhythm and an ideal body position. But with so many types of ski poles on the market, how do you know which ones you need? Finding the best ski poles means understanding how they differ and what they’re used for.
Not only are poles made for different types of skiing and terrains, they’re also made from a variety of materials. Small differences with ski poles can make a surprisingly big difference when you’re out on the snow.
Here at The Adventure Junkies, we’ve made it simple for you to find exactly what kind of ski poles will suit your skiing and get you ripping up the mountain. The right ski poles aren’t just equipment, they’re extensions of your body and enhance your slope side abilities.
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FIND THE BEST SKI POLES
SKI POLES 101
6 THINGS TO CONSIDER TO FIND THE BEST SKI POLES
The type of ski poles you need will depend on what skiing you do.
Alpine skiing, otherwise called downhill, is what most people think of when they hear ‘skiing’. Almost always on piste, alpine skiing requires straight, standard length poles.
Powder ski poles have bigger baskets to stop them from sinking and are often made of stronger material to cope with knocks and bumps. Many off-piste skiers prefer slightly shorter backcountry poles than if they were alpine skiing, to more easily handle rugged terrain. Adjustable-length ski poles can also be good for backcountry.
If you want to be the next slalom winner then racing poles will cut down weight while retaining their strength. With a curved, aerodynamic, shaft, these poles not only fit around your body but they shouldn’t catch on race gates either.
PARK AND FREESTYLE SKIING
An increasingly popular type of skiing, park and freestyle poles are usually shorter than alpine poles to prevent catching on rails, boxes and anything else you want to pop off.
Ski poles for cross-country skiing, Nordic walking and snowshoeing are much longer than the downhill ski poles above and have more acute tips.
Ski poles are made from a range of materials that change the strength, flexibility and price of the pole.
Very affordable, stiff and strong, aluminum ski poles are common. This alloy comes in different grades though, and high-grade aluminum will be pricier but also lighter and stronger. Many alpine piste skiers happily use aluminum ski poles as they are cheap and durable.
These ski poles might cost more but they are extremely strong, very lightweight and more flexible than aluminum. Carbon poles are probably the most indulgent to use. Experienced skiers may prefer carbon due to their lightness and narrow shaft. Anything that keeps weight down and has some flexibility can lessen strain when spending full days skiing tough terrain.
Ski poles that are composite are made with a blend of materials. As different materials have different pros and cons, they can be blended to create a mixture of attributes. For instance, carbon is often mixed with fibreglass. Composite poles have better shock absorption than aluminum making them good for backcountry.
3. SHAFT LENGTH
For alpine skiing and all-mountain skiing, the best length for your ski poles is around elbow height. This means that when you’re holding your poles upside-down with the basket resting on the top of your hand, your elbow will be bent at 90 degrees. REI have a ski pole size chart, suited to downhill/alpine skiers, that makes working out your pole length easy.
Park/Freestyle and powder skiers usually use slightly shorter poles as do many backcountry skiers. You don’t want your poles catching on trees, rocks, park features or any other uneven terrain. If you need park or freestyle poles, you can drop 2in or 4in (5cm or 10cm) off your alpine pole length.
Cross-country skiers use poles that are more around the height of your armpit and ski-tourers can benefit from longer poles too when hiking up.
Ski-tourers and backcountry skiers often need long poles for hiking up and standard, elbow-length poles for skiing down. The answer? Adjustable poles!
Ski pole baskets are plastic circles that sit above the tip near the very bottom of your pole and stop the pole from sinking into the snow.
Basket size depends on the type of terrain and skiing you’ll be doing.
Small baskets are the norm for alpine piste skiers and many cross-country skiers. They stop the pole from sinking in groomed snow and don’t affect the swing action too much.
Powder baskets are bigger, sometimes much bigger, than alpine baskets as they need a greater surface area to prevent sinking in powder. Backcountry skiers tend to have powder baskets, and some alpine skiers have spare powder baskets to swap out on powder days in the resort.
Race poles have minimal baskets or small, conical baskets to reduce weight and increase aerodynamics. Some cross-country or Nordic skiers also use race baskets if they are skiing groomed courses or don’t anticipate any powdery conditions.
Most ski poles have loop straps that prevent you from losing your poles in a fall or if you lose your grip. They also help prevent hand and wrist strain as they change the force distributed from your hand to the pole.
Many straps are adjustable in length but if not, check that the strap is easy to get on and off over your ski gloves. This is important especially for piste skiers who need to remove the straps every time they use a lift!
Some brands, including Leki, have quick-release loops or clickable strap systems. While these are largely unnecessary for alpine skiing, they can be of benefit to backcountry and race skiers in the event of falls.
The grip area of the ski pole is simply where your hand will hold the pole. Usually made from rubber or molded plastic, grips are almost always ergonomic to some extent with light indents for some or all of your fingers.
If you’re a mitten wearer, thumb indents and a smoother grip work well while fingered glove wearers might benefit more from more obviously indented grips. Park riders favor cleaner, less ergonomic grips to make side grabs and tricks easier.
Aside from length range, grips are also a factor in poles for specific genders or ages. For instance, children’s poles will have smaller grips than adults and poles that are labeled as women’s will normally have slightly smaller grips than poles marked men’s.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/wojciech_gajda
SKI POLE REVIEWS
1. BEST SKI POLES FOR OVERALL USE
LEKI SPARK S
BEST FOR: Alpine and racing
MATERIAL: High-grade aluminum
PROS: Unique Leki Trigger S strap system for quick release, comfortable molded grips, lightweight
CONS: Quite pricey for aluminum, some people may not like the strap system
LINE POLLARD’S PAINT BRUSH
Check out the latest price on:
BEST FOR: Alpine and powder
PROS: Includes two baskets for piste and powder, adjustable length for all types of downhill skiing, eye-catching design
CONS: Straight grip rather than ergonomic which may not be to too comfortable on long days or tough powder
BLACK DIAMOND EXPEDITION 3
BEST FOR: Backcountry experts
PROS: Super comfortable foam grip, highly adjustable for all-round backcountry and off-piste, includes powder and trekking baskets which are easy to change
CONS: Not the lightest poles out there, pricey for aluminum
2. BEST BUDGET SKI POLES
ROSSIGNOL STOVE PIPE SR.
BEST FOR: Alpine beginners and intermediates
PROS: Simple, sleek with an ergonomic grip and a great price tag
CONS: May not withstand rough usage or serious off-piste
K2 POWER 5
Check out the latest price on:
BEST FOR: Alpine piste-only
PROS: Cheap, unassuming, ergonomic grip with adjustable strap
CONS: Dull colours, small basket won’t be good for any amount of powder
3. BEST SKI POLES FOR OFF-PISTE/BACKCOUNTRY
BLACK DIAMOND RAZOR CARBON PRO
BEST FOR: Touring up and skiing down
MATERIAL: Carbon and aluminum
PROS: Lockable quick-release strap for added safety in a fall, ultra thin 0.5in (14mm) tapered to 0.4in (11mm) shaft, powder baskets
CONS: Quite heavy at around 1lb 6oz (623g), only mildly ergonomic grip
BLACK DIAMOND HELIO
BEST FOR: Expert backcountry and ski-touring skiers
PROS: Pure carbon and moulded as a single piece for added strength, very lightweight at 9oz (255g), the sleekest poles you’ll ever see
CONS: Expensive and possibly overkill for many backcountry skiers, fixed length may mean perfect on the ascent but too long on the downhills
LEKI AERGON 2 CONDOR
BEST FOR: Backcountry experts
PROS: Very easy to adjust with gloves on, comfortable ergonomic handles, one pole includes mountaineering blade for ice-ax self-arrests, powder baskets
CONS: For experts only, one size range only so possibly unsuitable for very tall people
4. BEST SKI POLES FOR CROSS-COUNTRY
SWIX NORDIC STANDARD
BEST FOR: Cross-country beginners
PROS: Comfortable and soft grips, very affordable, good for groomed tracks and some powder
CONS: Not particularly light, suited to hobby cross-country skiers only, may not withstand heavy use, not much to look at
ROSSIGNOL EXTRA CARBON 30
BEST FOR: Cross-country intermediates and advanced
MATERIAL: Carbon and aluminum
PROS: Looks pretty cool, lightweight with 30% carbon and 70% aluminum, adjustable strap, cork grip is comfortable and light
CONS: A little pricey, mainly white making them harder to spot if dropped