How to Choose Ski Poles

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Close up of a skier's lower legs, boots, ski's and ski poles at the top of a ski run overlooking a beautiful mountain range and partially cloudy sky

Downhill ski poles need to be strong enough for planting turns, light enough so your arms don't tire and flexible enough to withstand hard falls.

If you're a beginner, a good ski pole is any pole that fits. As you become more experienced, you may want to try different materials for a better strength-to-weight ratio.

 

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Pole Fit

To fit a pair of ski poles to you, wear shoes or stand in your ski boots. With the poles upside down—grips touching the floor—grab the pole just underneath the basket so that the top of your thumb touches the basket. Your elbow should now be at a 90° angle.

If the angle is less than 90°, try a shorter pole. If the angle is greater, get a longer pole. Most poles are sized in 2” increments. If you’re in between sizes, go with the shorter pole.

 

Downhill Ski Poles Sizing

Skier Height Pole Size (in.) Pole Size (cm)
3 ft. 6 in. and under 30 in. 75cm
3 ft. 8 in. 32 in. 80cm
3 ft. 10 in. 32 in. 80cm
4 ft. 34 in. 85cm
4 ft. 2 in. 36 in. 90cm
4 ft. 4 in. 36 in. 90cm
4 ft. 6 in. 38 in. 95cm
4 ft. 8 in. 40 in. 100cm
4 ft. 10 in. 42 in. 105cm
5 ft. 42 in. 105cm
5 ft. 2 in. 44 in. 110cm
5 ft. 4 in. 46 in. 115cm
5 ft. 6 in. 46 in. 115cm
5 ft. 8 in. 48 in. 120cm
5 ft. 10 in. 50 in. 125cm
6 ft. 50 in. 125cm
6 ft. 2 in. 52 in. 130cm
6 ft. 4 in. 54 in. 135cm
6 ft. 6 in. and over 56 in. 140cm
 

Park and pipe skiers should generally go with shorter poles (by at least one 2” size) as these are less likely to get hung up on the walls of the halfpipe.

 

The Strap

Most poles use a flexible nylon wrist strap. During turns, if you lose your grip, the strap helps keep the pole where you planted it. If you fall, the straps keep your poles with you and not buried in the snow far upslope.

To correctly use wrist straps, your hand should go up through the strap and then the thumb and hand grip over the strap and around the pole.

Tip: When trying on wrist straps in a store, wear ski gloves to ensure they’ll be easy on/off when you’re on the mountain.

Some downhill ski poles now have detachable straps—tearproof loops that click in and out of the grips for fast transitions.

 

The Basket

This is the plastic disk (sometimes shaped like a snowflake) near the bottom of a ski pole. Its purpose is to keep your pole from sinking too far into the snow.

Basket basics:

  1. In powder conditions, use a bigger basket.
  2. On groomed slopes or hardpack conditions, use a smaller basket.

Some poles come with interchangeable baskets or additional baskets can be purchased separately.

 

Telescoping Poles

Telescoping poles are used by ski mountaineers. These can be lengthened for uphill cross-country climbs or shortened for alpine descents. Some models can also be extended and vertically joined together for use as an avalanche probe.

If you choose telescoping poles, make sure they adjust from waist height for downhill skiing to just above your armpit for effective striding.

 

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