It may sound corny, but your ultimate goal is to feel at one with your ski poles—and that can only happen if you get the right ones. Ski poles that are sized correctly for you and that are made of the right materials for the terrain ahead will keep you balanced, propel you forward on the flats, and, perhaps most importantly, help you shred. Settle for less, and they could feel cumbersome, get stuck in the snow, and even impair your skiing technique.
Regardless of your abilities, you need a solid, properly sized ski pole. Ski poles are not one-size-fits-all, so ask yourself the following five questions to determine which ones are the best for you.
What size do you need?
This depends only on your height. There are many handy charts out there, as well as size guides for specific poles, but all you really need to know here is how tall you are. Absent that, use this simple test to find the right pole:
- Flip the pole upside down and perpendicular to the floor (basket pointing straight up).
- Grab the pole right below the basket such that the basket is above your hand.
- Hold your arm at your side with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle. The pole should extend straight down, and the end of the handle should just touch the floor. If your arms aren’t at 90 degrees, you’ve got the wrong size pole. If your bent-arm angle is less than 90 degrees the pole is too big; if it’s greater, the pole is too small.
Pro tip: When doing this test, wear shoes that give you as much extra height as your ski boots do (you can wear your boots or guesstimate to the best of your ability).
Added note: If you’ll be specifically cross-country skiing and relying on your poles for added propulsion, you can stick to this general sizing test for a pole that’s about armpit-high (right-side up), but may want added length (sized up the top of your shoulder) if you’re skiing classic trails; or longer (between your upper lip and nose) if you’re skate skiing on groomed Nordic trails.
Do your ski poles need to be adjustable?
If you’re only skiing in the resort, a fixed-length pole is better than an adjustable pole with regard to durability and ease of use while getting on and off chairlifts.
Adjustability is mostly relevant to ski mountaineers and folks who ski (or plan to ski or splitboard) in the backcountry. In the backcountry, it’s important to be able to adjust the length of your pole according to the current activity and terrain. Often, skiers and splitboarders like to keep poles at an intermediate length on the uphill to help propel them forward with less effort, and then shorten them as the slope angle increases or while bootpacking on steep terrain. During steeper traverses, it can be handy to have a longer pole on your downhill side.
Many skiers also prefer shorter poles when attempting to ski down steep slopes. The shorter length helps you maintain an aggressive stance and keeps you leaning downhill, which is crucial for balance.
If you need adjustable poles, make sure you know your pole size (again, this is based on your height). Also be sure your pole captures your preferred length range. For example, if your fixed pole is 120 cm, make sure that length is in the middle of the adjustable pole’s range—that way you’ll be able to shorten or lengthen it appropriately.