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How to Choose the Right Ski Poles

Correct Ski Pole Length Can Improve Your Skiing

Ski poles are an essential tool for skiers of all abilities. For beginners, ski poles provide stability and support as you master fundamentals. For advanced and technical skiers, ski poles increase mobility across the mountain, establish rhythm through technical turns, and provide balance on challenging terrain.

If you visit a resort or ski shop, an employee will help you identify the right style and size of ski pole to use. But if you’re shopping on your own, you’ll need to consider two things: 1) Your height, and 2) The type of skiing you prefer. Your height will dictate your ski pole’s length, while your skiing style will determine other important features. 

This guide applies to downhill and backcountry ski pole selection, so chat with a Gearhead for help picking out Nordic ski poles.

Sizing It Up: The Right Alpine Ski Pole Size

Follow these steps to find the perfect ski pole size for downhill skiing:

  1. Raise your arm straight out to the side. Now bend your elbow so your forearm is sticking straight out in front of you. Your arm should now be at a 90-degree angle—elbow out to the side, forearm and hand straight in front of you.
  2. Hold a tape measure in your extended hand and let the tape drop to the ground. Try to wear your ski boots―or at least some thick-soled shoes. The idea is to be as far from the ground as you would be from the snow while skiing—otherwise you might end up with a ski pole that’s a bit too short.
  3. Take note of the measurement but be sure to round to the nearest whole, even number. If your measurement is an exact odd number, round down. If you are wearing thin-soled shoes while taking this measurement, round up.
  4. Add 2 inches (or 5 centimeters) to your measured, rounded dimension to account for the section of the pole that will be sticking into the snow, since all ski poles are measured from the tip that sticks into the snow to the top of the handle.
  5. Once you have your personal ski pole size, shop for a fixed ski pole that comes in that dimension, or an extendable ski pole that has your dimension in its allowable range.

Ski pole size example

Let’s say that your initial measured number on the extended tape reads about 45 ½ inches (and you were wearing your ski boots when taking the measurement). Round that measured length to 45 inches, then add two inches for a total length of 47 inches.  Some ski poles only show their lengths in metric dimensions, so be sure to pay attention to the units of measurement. Your 47 inches converts to 119.38 centimeters.  Since ski pole lengths often come in multiples of 5, round this final dimension down to 120 centimeters and you’re ready to shop.

Ski Pole Length by Height Chart

If you don’t have a tape measure handy, check out the chart below for a quick guide to finding your correct ski pole size.  Just keep in mind, everyone is different and you may need to adjust up or down a size or two depending on how long you prefer your ski pole.

Skier Height Pole Length
6’7″ plus 56in (140cm)
6’4″ to 6’6″ 54in (135cm)
6’1″ to 6’3″ 52in (130cm)
5’10 to 6’0″ 49in (125cm)
5’7″ to 5’9″ 48in (120cm)
5’4″ to 5’6″ 46in (115cm)
5’1″ to 5’3″ 44in (110cm)
4’9″ to 5’0″ 42in (105cm)
4’5″ to 4’8″ 40in (100cm)
4’1″ to 4’8″ 38in (95cm)
3’9″ to 4’0″ 36in (90cm)
3’5″ to 3’8″ 34in (85cm)
3’4″ or under 32in (80cm)


Source:
The Clymb 

Extendibility

Some ski poles are adjustable, which means you can alter their length to suit your height or activity. These poles are popular among backcountry skiers and splitboarders. They can be adjusted to provide pushing leverage while ascending and then reset for the descent. Some ski poles are even modular enough that they fold down like tent poles or join together to double as an avalanche probe.

Select a size that includes your downhill ski pole length within its usable range. If your preferred downhill length is 48 inches and you’re headed to the backcountry, consider a pole like the 155cm Black Diamond Traverse Pro, which provides nearly 12 inches of flexibility while touring through powder.

If you’re only skiing downhill at the resort, a non-extendable ski pole is probably a better choice for durability. 

Shaft Material

A ski pole’s shaft material directly influences its weight, durability, and cost. Most ski pole shafts are made from aluminum and carbon fiber, but you can also find poles built with titanium and bamboo.

Weight: Weight can play a big role in skier fatigue, especially if you are skinning for hours on end, making ultralight materials such as carbon fiber extremely desirable.  For example, the LEKI Tour Stick Vario has a completely carbon fiber shaft that weighs in at only 255 grams, perfect for big days in the backcountry. Although aluminum is a very light material, aluminum poles are usually heavier than carbon. Fear not, there are still a wide selection of aluminum poles that are still great for backcountry touring and trekking.

Durability: Carbon fiber is extremely resilient in the right application, but one hit against a sharp rock can ruin a carbon ski pole. Aluminum is more durable and can be subjected to impact while still maintaining its strength and flexibility. Given their enhanced durability, ski poles intended for use in backcountry, mogul, and racing environments are commonly made of sturdier aluminum. The K2 Power Pole is a great example of an aluminum ski pole that will hold up in all freeride conditions, but weighs in at a modest 270g.

More Ski Pole Features

Ski Pole Basket 

The ski pole basket plays an essential role if you plan to venture into more challenging terrain. The basket keeps the pole from sinking too far into the snow when you plant it. The two most popular basket shapes are standard and powder. 

Standard baskets work well on hard-packed groomers and modest snowfall, but aren’t ideal in fresh, deep snow. Powder baskets are wider and provide more surface area for the pole to plant, making them ideal in loosely packed snow, in the backcountry, and on powder days. 

There are a variety of other niche basket types as well, such as aerodynamic baskets for racing, like the LEKI Super G/DH ski poles. Regardless, every ski pole basket will work in a pinch, but may not be the best choice for certain skiing activities—an aerodynamic racing ski pole basket will not be very useful in 3 feet of powder, and a powder basket will cause unnecessary drag in a tucked downhill racing stance.

Grip

Your ski pole’s grip may seem like a feature purely based on ergonomic preference, but certain grips have distinct advantages in extreme environments. For example, the Atomic BCT Mountaineering SQS Ski Poles feature a BCT grip with EVA foam that’s comfortable to grip all day, even on the steepest switchbacks.

Another impressive and unique grip feature can be found on the Black Diamond Whippet ski pole, which actually has a detachable ice pick for big mountain descents and slippery chutes.

Strap

Ski pole straps vary from the common adjustable nylon strap to glove-integrated detachable systems that help you ditch your poles during a fall to prevent injury and damage. For example, the Scott Pro Taper ski poles feature Scott’s Safety Release System strap, designed to protect you in the event of a tumble. 

Whether you’re shopping for your first pair of poles or building your equipment arsenal, knowing how to select the right ski poles will help you have a more successful and safe next trip out in the snow.

Zach Wendt is an avid skier, backpacker, fly fisherman, car camper, hiker, and year-round weekend warrior. Born and raised in the playground of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Zach’s “happy place” is stepping into his skis on a 12,000-foot ridge overlooking chutes and valleys draped in champagne powder. He has skied since he could walk and is constantly on the hunt for the best snow and the best views. When he’s not exploring the outdoors, Zach is a full-time engineer and freelance writer, creating everything from product reviews to comparison videos, promotional videos, and technology deep dives.