Although ski poles aren’t as technical as ski boots and bindings, there are a few things to look for when you’re buying a new pair. The materials and shapes used for the ski pole grips, shafts and baskets will play a role in how they’ll feel and perform.
The best ski poles for you depend on a few key considerations:
- Where you’re skiing: Skiers that are chasing powder stashes all day will be looking for different poles than all-mountain and park skiers.
- Ski pole sizing: Use the ski pole size chart below to see what length you need.
- Extra features to look for: Different material and technology will affect how a pole performs.
Where you’re skiing
You’ll want to match your ski poles to the main type of skiing you plan to do. In general, though, a set of lightweight poles will make your day more enjoyable since they cut down on arm fatigue whether you’re skiing powder, groomers or all-mountain lines.
- All-mountain and resort skiing: You’ll want to get the goldilocks of poles: not too long or too short, and with baskets that aren’t too big or too small. This type of “just right” pole is good for beginners and intermediate skiers too.
- Powder skiing: Look for poles that are slightly shorter than what you’d use for all-mountain skiing. In deep snow, long poles require you to lift them high with each turn, which means you’ll have pretty tired arms by the end of the day. You’ll also want big powder baskets to prevent your poles from sinking in the snow.
- Backcountry skiing: Poles with adjustable length will come handy on super deep days, as well as on long flat approaches. The grip on backcountry skiing poles generally have a little hook-like feature to flip your bindings into ski or hike mode.
- Park skiing: For terrain park skiing, look for shorter ski poles with low swing weight and colours that pop. (Everyone knows bright colours spin faster.)
Ski pole sizing
Use the ski pole sizing chart below to find the right pole length based on your height. This chart is a guideline for all-mountain or resort skiers – size up or down based on the type of skiing you’re doing (use the tips above to help).
Ski pole size chart
|Skier height||Pole length|
|4ft. 1in. – 4ft. 4in.||95cm|
|4ft. 5in. – 4ft. 8in.||100cm|
|4ft. 9in. – 5ft.||105cm|
|5ft. 1in. – 5ft. 3in.||110cm|
|5ft. 4in. – 5ft. 6in.||115cm|
|5ft. 7in. – 5ft. 9in.||120cm|
|5ft. 10in. – 6ft.||125cm|
|6ft. 1in. – 6ft. 3in.||130cm|
|6ft. 4in. – 6ft. 6in.||135cm|
To double check that the pole length is right for your body, flip the pole upside down and hold it right below the basket (make sure the grip is on the floor). For all-mountain or downhill skiing, if your elbow is bent at a 90-degree angle, then it’s the correct size for you. Remember to wear your ski boots when you do this.
Extra features to look for
The more you spend, the better you ski – right? Not necessarily. But if you do choose to splurge a bit more on ski poles, it can mean better technology, materials and more features.
Aluminum is the main material used in ski poles, but not all aluminum is created equal. 7000-series aluminum poles will be lighter and stronger than a comparable 6000-series aluminum pole. The downside of aluminum poles is that if they’re flexed too much, they’re likely to stay bent. Carbon fibre ski poles are even more lightweight than high-grade aluminum ones and have a better ability to flex and bounce back to their original shape.
Adjustable ski poles
A set of telescoping or adjustable ski poles can be quite useful for backcountry skiers and people who split their time between resort skiing and chasing powder. Longer poles are more efficient for skinning up, since they let you take longer strides. Shorter poles are easier to manoeuvre around when you’re skiing in deep snow.
Ski pole grips
Grips with soft rubber on top of harder rubber are often more comfortable to hold that single material grips. Some poles have extra grip below the main grip for shifting your hands down the shaft when you’re walking on sidehills.
Ski pole straps
Ski straps come is all kinds of shapes, materials and construction. If you’re planning to use your ski poles as hiking or trekking poles in summer, padded straps are a nice option. For safety reasons when you’re tree skiing or skiing in avalanche terrain, some backcountry ski poles have detachable straps that will release when pull on hard enough. These can also be removed for skiers that prefer to ski without straps.
Ski pole baskets
The size of the basket determines the level of float they provide; bigger baskets give way more float than smaller baskets for skiing at resorts. Smaller baskets also work for using your ski poles as trekking poles on summer hiking trips. Some baskets have hooks designed to help flip up your alpine touring bindings into ski or hike mode.