Ski Poles – Not Just a Pretty Piece of Gear

Ski Poles - Not Just a Pretty Piece of Gear

Photo: Oskar Enander Rider: Lars Windlin

The pole shall be in the darkness no more.

Almost every big outdoor brand has their own custom ski poles nowadays. The choice is ours and there is no one stopping us from finding the right poles in the huge market. So welcome along on this quest for making us better skiers, it might look like a lot of information but you can, if you wish, scroll through until you find your golden nugget.

We dig deep or we do not bother to bring a shovel.

The chatter

In 2012, the earliest ski pole was found in Sweden (this is not a joke! We would never make this up because of our Swedish heritage… we are as surprised as you are!) and dates back to 3623 BC, while the earliest depiction of a man with a ski pole was found in Norway in the form of a cave painting, dated from 4000 BC. Early skiers would use this pole for the purposes of balancing, braking, and turning. Alpine societies, such as those in Nordic regions or the Altai mountains, used their ski poles to hunt as well, giving them spear-like qualities. Skiers began to use two ski poles in 1741. This provided greater balance than one pole and made pushing through the snow easier.

Early ski poles were made of pine and bamboo, US patents for steel ski poles began in 1933 when John B. Dickson invented a new design calling for the use of steel as the shaft material. This construction was superseded by Edward L. Scott, who is credited with popularizing the lightweight aluminum ski pole in 1959, deriving his modern design from golf club shafts. This new stiff and lightweight pole made it easier for skiers to pole-plant and initiate fast, short turns.

The most modern material used in ski pole production is carbon fiber. A patent has been filed for a bio composite material that can be used for ski poles, something that is of yet not made. Axel Composites has a patent for carbon fiber ski poles dating back to 1975, however, inventor David P. Goode’s improved design from 1989 became the first widely produced. The carbon fiber pole builds on the same qualities of the aluminum pole: lightness and stiffness while being extremely strong.

Poles of today

Today we have a wide range of different poles for different occasions. It’s almost like a dress code for a party: people would look a bit surprised if you’d show up at a BBQ party on the beach in an evening gown. The difference is, that this humble gear will help you on the mountain and not just give you blisters or a panic attack because your tie is too tight around the neck.

All-mountain skiing – Aluminium poles make the most sense for this. They are durable and usually bend under hard impacts rather than breaking like carbon fiber. They are lightweight enough for days at the resort with variable conditions, if not icy. They last longer and are equally good on piste and off piste, especially if you split your time between the two during a day on the mountain.

Lightweight skiing – Carbon poles are good if you want to reduce your arms swing weight. Good carbon poles are very strong for forces aligned with the lay of the fibres (top to bottom), but not so strong for forces across the fibers (side to side). They can be weakened if the fibers are cut by abrasion or if the resin becomes fatigued through regular heavy flexing. These poles will most likely make you feel like your are floating, but will also break easily if you are out hitting the powder (and maybe a tree) when you are in the back country/tree skiing. If however you are lapping back a flat section after a long run the carbons are nice and easy, as long as you keep them straight down without flexing to much.

Backcountry skiing – An adjustable ski pole is best used out-of-bounds, particularly when ski touring. You’ll typically want a shorter length for the uphill and longer for flat sections and downhill. The disadvantage of a telescoping pole is the possibility for the clamp not to hold and collapse when you plant. When choosing a telescope pole, pick a brand that you trust and make sure it has bigger baskets: they will make them stay up in the powder and not sinki in with every step you take.

Casual Groomed Runs: Fixed length basic aluminum pole w/standard baskets
Hard Charging Groomers: Fixed length durable aluminum or carbon w/standard baskets
Backcountry Touring: Adjustable lightweight carbon fiber w/powder baskets
Mixed Snow Use: Fixed aluminum or carbon fiber (or combination of both) w/replaceable baskets
Terrain Park: Shorter length high strength aluminum w/standard baskets

The Handle – IF you find a good handle that fits you like a glove, stick to it. This might sound confusing, but often you can pull the handle off the original pole (if it’s broken and of no use anymore) and put it on another pole. It will take up some of your precious time, but you will be rewarded.

A insider tip for backcountry enthusiasts is to pick a handle on your telescope pole with a small hook on the very top of the grip. With this hook you can adjust the height of your ski touring bindings without bending down.

What we believe

Your poles should guide you down the mountain, give you balance and bring you home on flat terrain. For this to happen, you will need to find your preferred height. For example: Mogul skiers use abnormally short poles, as have the big jump/fun park hitters. It would simply be inconvenient for them to punch themselves in the face on every bump or get stuck in a rail. These athletes go down, never flat or up, so therefore they do not need long poles.

As for you, the height has to be your first priority. Buy your preferred pole and cut it until you have a 90 degree angle from elbow to hand. Customize it in the shop or in your garage, just remember to consider the difference from the floor when you have your skis and boots on (there will be a couple of centimeters to account for).

Check out the video below, this chart and this site for more information about sizes and gear!

// Ski Lodge Team

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