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This guide explains exactly what ski poles are for, how to use them effectively, and what you should look out for when you buy your own ski poles. Ski poles are used by skiers for balance, building rhythm into parallel turns, and for good old propulsion on the flat.
What Do Ski Poles Do?
Let’s get one thing clear. You can absolutely ski without poles BUT if used properly ski poles will improve your skiing and help you time your turns correctly. With new skiers, ski instructors will often take away your ski poles on a few different exercises to get you comfortable skiing without them – so you can focus on the movement of your legs.
Ski poles can be dangerous if you put them out in front of you at speed. Always pole plant to one side.
New skiers tend to rely too heavily on their poles and mistake them for instruments that support your body weight. You’ll often see lines of new skiers in a duck formation following the instructor with their hands outstretched while they work on shifting body weight without the distraction of their poles.
Aside from improving your movements on the slopes poles are great for keeping your balance while stopped on steep sections of the piste. Once you’ve made it back down to the lift area, poles help you move across flat ground and into position for safely getting onto the chair lift.
There is also no denying that ski poles do give you a psychological edge and there is an extra level of comfort that comes with using ski poles. After you’ve moved off the baby slopes and started to learn to parallel ski poles becomes a great tool to create rhythm in your turns.
The purpose of ski poles is timing. Proper technique dictates that you hold your hands in front of your body and “plant” your pole each time you turn.
Grace Carnegie, Mogul Freestyle Skier
A well-timed pole plant to signal an upcoming turn can get you into the right body position, and lead to a smoother more natural sequence of left and right turns.
Main Uses For Ski Poles
- Provide propulsion on the flat.
- Keep you balanced on a steep slope.
- Create rhythm during parallel turns with a pole plant.
- Take off your ski boots without bending down.
- Help you get up after a fall.
How To Pole Plant?
Pole planting will give your skiing other dimensions and is really useful on bumps, steeper slopes, powder and all over the mountain.
Keep your arms upfront & away from the body at a relaxed distance. No need to fully extend or wave your arms, but a relaxed wrist movement.
As you come out of the end of one turn, bring the downhill pole forward and place it in front of your to mark your next turn. Flick it into the snow don’t but don’t place any weight onto it. Always turn round your downhill pole. 1. Release the edge, 2. plant the pole, 3. turn. There should be no hesitation between the pole plant and the start of the turn.
I wrote a whole guide on pole planting: How to Pole Plant: Skiers Guide – check it out and let me know what you think.
What DON’T Ski Poles Do?
Ski poles shouldn’t be used to:
- Support your body weight.
- Drag along behind you.
- Poke snowboarders
How to Hold Your Ski Poles?
- Put your hands up through the loop of the strap, and let the pole come down.
- Place your hand on the grip of the pole and the end of the strap.
This allows you to relax your grip and have a sturdy hold without placing too much pressure on you’re hands and arms.
- Hold the pole without the pole strap beneath the hands and the grip.
- Not using the pole strap.
- The pole strap is too tight, placing pressure on the wrist.
- The pole strap is too loose and requires a strong hand grip to keep the pole stable.
What Size Ski Pole?
Your ski pole while resting on the snow and gripped by your hand should sit comfortably at a relaxed 90-degree angle. A pole that is too big will get in the way of your skiing, and you will have to consciously lift it out of the ground after each pole plant. A pole that’s too short won’t provide sufficient reach for your plant.
How To Size Your Ski Pole To You?
- Put your elbow to your side and bend your forearm 90° so that it is parallel with the ground.
- Take the pole and turn it upside down, with the handle on the floor.
- Put your hand under the basket while the pole is vertical.
- Your forearm should be parallel to the ground if it is the right fit.
Longer Poles Are Better for:
- Pole planting and turning
- Traversing lots of flat
- Cross-country skiing
Shorter Poles Are Better for:
- Deep snow
- Terrain parks and jumps
- Mogul skiing
Ski Pole Size Chart
|Skier Height||Pole Length|
|< 101||< 3’4″||80||32|
|104 – 112||3’5″ – 3’8″||85||34|
|114 – 122||3’9″ – 4’0″||90||36|
|125 – 132||4’1″ – 4’4″||95||38|
|135 – 142||4’5″ – 4’8″||100||40|
|145 – 152||4’9″ – 5’0″||105||42|
|155 – 160||5’1″ – 5’3″||110||44|
|163 – 168||5’4″ – 5’6″||115||46|
|170 – 175||5’7″ – 5’9″||120||48|
|178 – 183||5’10” – 6’0″||125||50|
|186 – 190||6’1″ – 6’3″||130||52|
|> 193||> 6’4″||135+||54+|
Types of Ski Poles
Alpine Ski Poles
Most skiers use alpine ski poles and their suited for every day resort skiing. Alpine ski poles are straight, with a comfy grip and a normal size basket.
Powder and Backcountry Ski Poles
These types of ski poles are better for soft powdery snow. They’ll have a larger snow basket for better float and preventing the pole from getting stuck. The shafts are typically thicker and stronger than alpine poles – to protect against more wear and tear on rocks.
Some models are adjustable so they more easily attach to backpacks for when not in use – such as hiking. Off-piste skiers typically use a shorter pole to reduce weight and perform better in deeper snow that sits closer to the tip.
Race Ski Poles
Ski poles for racing are more aerodynamic, lighter, and expensive. They’re designed to reduce drag and increase the skier’s speed.
Freestyle & Park Poles
Park poles are thinner & shorter while some skiers may go without.
Ski Pole Features
The ski pole basket is the petal-shaped disk at the bottom of the ski. It is designed to keep your ski pole from sinking too deep into the snow. Just like a snowshoe, the larger surface area keeps the pole afloat. Off-piste or backcountry skiers benefit from a larger basket, where the snow is deeper.
The straps are attached above the grips and you loop them around your wrists for a more supported grip and so you don’t lose your poles when you accidentally release your grip (handy for when you’re on a lift and you need to get something out of your backpack).
The grip is at the top of the pole and is usually ergonomically shaped for a comfortable hand grip. This can be made from plastic or cork. Grips that use two materials tend to be comfier. Women’s poles usually have a smaller grip for smaller hands.
Ski tips are typically made from steel for toughness and to provide a sharp bite into the snow that can withstand some wear and tear.
What’s the Difference Between Men’s and Women’s Poles?
There is no real difference other than the choice of graphics and the look. Women’s poles may have smaller grips for smaller hands.
How Much to Spend on Ski Poles?
You can get decent ski poles for under $100 for recreational use. Typically poles under $50 will be fine for new skiers, but they may be more likely to buckle with a heavy pole plant.
Poles in the $150+ range will be lighter, tougher and typically have more comfortable grips and hardwearing straps. For backcountry skiing, look for an adjustable ski pole – that is collapsible. Not only will it make carrying it easier, but you can set it to different heights for deeper snow conditions and for hiking.
Best Ski Poles for 2022
Alpine Skiing (Everyday Ski Resort Skiing)
- Scott Punisher Ski Poles – under $50 – check current price.
- Zipline Carbon Composite Graphite – under $100 – check current price.
- Zipline Kevlar Graphite Hybrid – under $150 – check current price.
- Black Diamond Whippet Ski Poles – under $150- check current price.
Backcountry / Off-piste Skiing Poles
- Black Diamond Traverse Pro Ski Poles, under $100 – check current price.
- Black Diamond Expedition 3 Ski Poles, under $150 – check current price.