How to Buy Perfect Cross Country Ski Poles
Summary: The most important thing to consider when buying new poles is pole length. The most common problem is skiers buying poles which are too short.
Poling technique has evolved considerably over the years and modern poling technique requires longer poles than what used to be recommended.
This change has been around for many years now, but it’s still easy to find sales staff who’ll sell you poles which are too short. When buying new poles, it’s best to know the current standard.
Below you’ll find guidelines for choosing the correct length of classic and skate poles. We also discuss what you get from more expensive poles and different features you should look for in handles and tips.
Classic Pole Length
Measure the pole height to the point where the strap connects with the pole (red arrow). You want that point to reach the midpoint of your shoulder or about three centimetres below the top of your shoulder (red bar). Some variance is OK. Any pole within two centimetres of this ideal height will be fine.
Skate Pole Length
Skate poles are taller than classic poles. The point where the strap and the handle meet (red arrow) should be between the bottom of your chin and your upper lip (double red lines). You can start skiing on longer poles and cut them down later if you find them to be too tall, but you can’t ever add length back. Give yourself a chance to get used to longer poles and if it really doesn’t work for you, cut them down a little bit at a time.
These racing straps are like a sling that cradles your hand and holds it next to your pole, even if you let go. You want these. Don’t buy poles with a loop strap if you can help it.
Harness straps like these come in different sizes and are very expensive to buy as separate parts, so be sure to check they fit your hand properly (with your glove or mitten on).
The final feature of your poles is the basket, or tip.
High end poles have small racing-style tips. They’re light, don’t negatively affect the swing action, and have sharp points for great traction.
On groomed trails, they’re wonderful, but if you’re more likely to be skiing in fresh snow, you will want larger baskets so your poles don’t punch through the snow.
You can buy different style tips for different conditions and then change them out when you need to. Ask at the store about this option.
The rule of thumb is larger baskets are for deeper, ungroomed snow and small baskets require groomed conditions. In the photo below, the pole on the left has a very large basket, the second pole from the left has a nice all purpose sized basket, and the three on the right are all racing tips.
The Price You Pay
Entry level poles are usually made of aluminium. They’re cheap and durable. You can get very nice poles like this, even with a racing strap, for under $50. Aside from cost, the other advantage of these poles is they are much less likely to break than expensive poles.
Mid-range poles cost roughly $100-200. Poles in this price category are normally a composite of carbon blended with an additional material. Sometimes they are 100% carbon, but a lower quality than is used in top end poles.
While not as light or stiff as racing poles, mid-range poles offer the best bang for your buck and are ideal for skiing on groomed trails.
Racing poles range in price between $250 and $600. That probably seems like a crazy price to you. If you ski with poles of this quality, you’ll notice they’re extremely light and very stiff. This is especially important for taller skiers, as poles flex a lot under load.
The other thing you’ll notice is that expensive poles have a beautiful swing or pendulum action. It’s hard to describe, but once you experience it, you won’t want to give it up. It’s like developing a taste for expensive wine.
My advice is to invest in poles according to your budget and your interest in the sport. If you’re passionate about cross-country skiing and plan to do it forever, expensive poles will pay dividends in years of performance pleasure.
Finally, if you’re choosing between investing more money in skis, boots or poles, I’d prioritize my investment as follows: skis first, then poles, then boots. Of course, I’d want to leave enough money for a nice jacket, too.