When you first start learning to ski, it’s quite likely you won’t use a pair of these just yet.
Ski poles can be tricky to get used to for young kids who need to focus on their feet and how to stop first before worrying about carrying anything in their hands as well. But pretty quickly, you will have advanced to using ski poles. They are essential not only for propelling yourself across the surface of the snow on flat terrain, but for maintaining balance and to help with unweighting between ski turns.
The first skiers used a very different technique to that seen today on the slopes of the world’s mountains. Early ski pioneers (this is going back as far as 4000BC!) rode on a pair of skis, but they were asymmetrical; that is, one ski was shorter than the other. They used this shorter ski to propel themselves across the snow – a sort of lopsided form of modern cross-country skiing. They also used a single long ski pole to help with balance and propulsion. Some evidence suggests they may have even used spears for this role.
The earliest records showing a skier using two poles dates back to 1741, and it took another 218 years before someone would develop the first lightweight aluminium ski pole. Ed Scott was this someone, designing a ski pole that was not only lightweight and strong, but had the characteristic tapered shaft and basket at the tips.
Modern Ski Poles
Ski poles today follow a fairly similar form, with minor differences apparent between skiing disciplines. Ski poles have three main notable features, the basket, the grip and the pole itself.
The Basket is the cone shaped or circular structure that is attached just above the tip of the ski pole stopping it from piercing into the snow too deeply when the skier plants each pole. Usually made from lightweight plastic or other composites, the basket is sized depending on the discipline the poles are being used for: baskets may be smaller for racing and larger for skiing off-piste in deep powder, for example.
The pole itself is usually constructed from a lightweight composite such as aluminium or carbon fibre. A ski pole varies in length depending on the discipline it is used for and also depending on the height of the rider. Some racing styles utilise curvesdski poles that wrap around the torso of the rider reducing drag. Ski poles used for cross country are much longer than those used in Alpine skiing because they are predominately used for propulsion on flat terrain. Alpine skiers, however, need shorter poles to allow them to turn more quickly skiing down steep terrain.
The grip is attached at the top of the pole for the rider to hold onto. They are most commonly made from plastic and rubber composites and are designed to fit the rider’s hands comfortably. A strap is often connected to the top of the handle that the rider loops around their wrist while riding to improve their grip on the pole and to ensure that they don’t drop their poles over rough terrain, or when they are high up on the chairlift. Occasionally you will see a lone pole on a rocky outcrop beneath you as you pass overhead on the chair: a hilarious sight to behold unless of course, it’s your pole. Some ski pole manufacturers have designed straps that detach when pulled sharply as there can be a real risk of injury when skiing off-piste in the tree line if your pole gets caught on a branch and your strap is looped around your wrist. Some riders choose not to wear strap at all in this kind of terrain.
Ski Pole Length
Everyone is different, so you’ll need to make sure you get the right length ski poles suited to your height and the type of skiing that you will be performing.
For most types of skiing, your ski pole should be tall enough so as to create a right angle at your elbow when you hold its point on the ground at 90 degrees. There are sizing charts to help with this, and your shop engineer can help you in store so that you get the best pole for you. Nordic and cross country skiers use much longer poles that reach as high as their armpit or even their top lip depending on the technique used. This allows for much greater extension on each stride as they push at the snow for longer creating more forward momentum.