How to Buy Perfect Cross Country Ski Poles
It may be hard to believe if you're a beginner, but buying the right cross country ski poles will improve your skiing experience.
Think of it this way: a cross country skier uses all four limbs to move forward. Depending on the technique, perhaps 40 - 100% of your propulsion is thanks to forces working through your poles.
The material, the features and the length of your poles are all important considerations. You need poles that fit your body, your needs and your budget.
This article covers everything you need to know about buying cross country ski poles, including how to calculate pole length for skate and classic skiing.
- Pole length influences your ski technique.
- Do not use the same poles for skate and classic cross country skiing.
- Classic poles are shorter than skate poles.
- Better poles are made of lighter, stiffer materials and have a nicer swing feel.
- Rollerski pole lengths are the same as used on snow.
Pole Length and Ski Technique
The basic posture for skate and classic skiing is to be slightly flexed at the hips, knees and ankles.
The whole body leans forward and the weight is often biased towards the balls of the feet.
This basic posture, called the athletic stance, is the foundation for all ski techniques.
Pole length influences ski technique because it affects basic posture.
When your poles are the right length, you can get into a good basic position. Ski poles that are too long force you into a posture that it too upright.
Standing more upright makes it harder to balance and to get into the athletic stance. Without that good foundational posture, it's impossible to ski well.
Did you know we have ski technique videos?
For skiers just getting started:
- First Day Lesson Plan for Absolute Beginners (works for both skate and classic skiing)
- Classic vs Skate Skiing. Which is right for you?
For Skate Skiers: The One Skate Dance Drill
For Classic Skiers: Learn Diagonal Stride - this will benefit you even if you've been skiing for years as this teaches competition technique.
Ski Pole Materials and Features
Poles are made of aluminium, carbon or a composite material. The best poles are:
- Lightweight - to reduce the energy needed to carry them.
- Stiff - to improve the transmission of forces through the poles and into the ground. The stiffness of a pole can decrease with age.
- Ideally Weighted/Engineered - to improve how the pole feels in the hand as it swings like a pendulum.
Carbon fibre poles are most expensive and have the best performance for stiffness and weight. Carbon poles are also the most fragile and may be prone to breaking.
Aluminum poles are cheapest. They are heavy and sturdy.
Composite poles are a mix of materials, including carbon. There are many mid-range composite ski poles that offer excellent value for money.
Pole Handles and Harnesses
Buy a harness strap, not a loop strap. The harness will hold the pole in your grasp effortlessly and distribute the pressure evenly across your hand.
Pole harnesses come in different sizes and are expensive to replace. Test different harnesses to find what’s most comfortable for you.
Make sure you buy a harness that fits over your glove or mitten. Get help adjusting the fit when you buy them.
The handle material also affects the weight and comfort of the pole. Cork handles are warmer to the touch than manmade materials, but cork wears down with use.
Some ski pole handles have quick release mechanisms that disengages the strap from the pole, even while the harness is still wrapped around your hand.
Biathletes use poles like that so they can shoot without having to remove their hands from the harness.
The drawback of quick-release poles is that’s another thing that can break or wear out. You may find the strap disengages, even when you don’t want it to.
Pole tips come with different sized baskets. Large baskets are good for deep and/or soft snow. Small baskets are ideal for well groomed and hard snow.
Pole tips need periodic sharpening. This can be done with a file or a dremel tool.
Some poles have screw-in tips which allow you to easily swap out tips for various conditions and uses.
How to Calculate Pole Length
To calculate your ideal ski pole length, you'll need to know:
- The manufacturer’s pole length
- Your height
Manufacturer's Pole Length
Cross country ski poles come in lengths that increase in 5 cm increments.
Most manufacturers calculate pole length from the tip to the top of the pole handle. A few brands calculate pole length to where the strap inserts into the grip.
“Your height” means your actual height, not standing in shoes.
Formula for Classic Ski Pole Length
- Your height (cm) - 30 cm= Classic pole length (cm)
Formula for Skate Ski Pole Length
- Your height (cm) - 20 cm= Skate pole length (cm)
Example Calculation for Skate Skis
- Your height: 178 cm
- New ski pole length: 160 cm to top of handles
- Your ideal skate pole length: 158 cm
- Recommendation: cut poles down by 2 cm.
A Nordic Ski Shop will often cut new poles for free at the time of purchase, or for a small fee.
Cutting Ski Poles to Custom Lengths
Mid-range and more expensive poles can be cut to custom lengths. Cheaper poles cannot be resized.
Poles are cut to custom lengths from the handle end, not the tip end.
The pole grip is glued to the pole shaft. The glue is softened by immersing the pole handle in warm water or heating it gently with a heat gun.
Once soft, the pole handle can slide off the shaft . The shaft is cut and the handle reattached.
The shop where you buy your poles will usually do this for you at the time of purchase.
Regulation Classic Ski Pole Length (FIS)
The World Ski Federation limits classic ski pole length used in FIS races to 83% of the skiers height as calculated in ski boots. You only need to worry about that if you plan to ski in FIS sanctioned races.
Most new skiers should buy a low to mid-range composite pole, not an aluminum pole.
Buy a pole with a harness grip, not a simple loop strap.
Not all poles have handles that can be removed. If you need to cut the poles to customize the length, then make sure you buy poles that have a handle that can removed.
If you have the budget and you're sure cross country skiing is going to be your new passion, buy more expensive poles. Treat them well. They are a little more fragile and it's heartbreaking to snap a beloved pole.
Ski Poles for Roller Skiing
A roller ski is higher off the ground than a snow ski but pole lengths are the same. The extra height of a roller ski is offset by the fact that the poles don't sink into the ground like they do on snow.
So, you can use the same poles for roller skiing and on-snow skiing, but you need to swap out the pole tips.
Roller ski pole tips are made of a much harder material (carbide). Regular pole tips will wear down immediately if you use them on pavement.
Roller ski tips should be sharpened often. It's hard for a blunt worn down tip to bite into the pavement.
Protecting Your Poles
More expensive, carbon poles are sadly more prone to breakage.
- Store and transport your poles with care.
- If the snow is deep and ungroomed, it may be best to leave your favourite poles at home.
- The snow to the edge of the trail is often softer. If the pole tip sinks deeply and you are poling forcefully you run a higher risk of breaking the pole.