How To Choose Ski Poles

If you’ve ever skied in deep powder with poles that have small baskets, you know the wrong type of ski poles can make or break a day on the slopes. What’s more, manufacturers produce a variety of poles tailored to specific disciplines within skiing. Find out what type of poles are right for you with our How to Choose Ski Poles guide.

What Type of Ski Pole is Right For Me?

Ski poles may seem like the least important component of your ski gear, but they can have a serious impact on your performance. As you look for a set of ski poles, you should begin by asking yourself a few questions—what type of skiing do you primarily do? What type of conditions do you typically ski? And where do you ski the most? Once you’ve answered those, you’ll have a good idea of what type of ski pole will work best for you.

Types of Ski Poles

Ski poles are divided into the three categories—fixed length, adjustable/telescoping, and race-specific—each of which is tailored toward a specific discipline of skiing.

Fixed Length Ski Poles

By far the most common type of ski poles are traditional fixed length poles. These poles have a straight shaft and are well-suited for skiing on- and off-piste, depending on which type of basket they have. Within this category you can choose between different materials and several grip and basket configurations to best suit the snow conditions you typically ski. Generally speaking, fixed length poles will suit the needs of the majority of alpine skiers.

Image courtesy of Leki.

Adjustable Length Ski Poles

Adjustable length ski poles are best suited for use in the backcountry, where they’re utilized for ascending and descending. The added benefit of an adjustable, or telescoping, shaft has several advantages when skiing in the backcountry. For starters, you can lengthen the pole during long, flat approaches for a more comfortable stride as you ski over flat or undulating terrain. Conversely, you can also shorten the poles when you’re hiking or “booting” up a steep couloir. The added versatility of an adjustable ski pole makes them well-suited to the myriad snow conditions and terrain you’ll encounter in the backcountry.

Image courtesy of Leki.

Ski Race Poles

Race-specific ski poles can be subdivided into three categories—slalom, GS, and Super G. Slalom poles have a traditional straight shaft, whereas GS poles will typically have a slightly bent shaft and Super G poles have a very pronounced bend to contour around the body when the racer is in a tucked position. Strength, weight, and aerodynamics are critical components of any race pole, so it’s not uncommon to see racing poles constructed from a combination of high-quality aluminum alloy and carbon, as well as feature more refined shapes to maximize aerodynamics and swingweight.

Image courtesy of Leki.

Choosing Ski Pole Length

A good way to quickly determine what length of ski pole is right for you is by flipping a pole upside down and gripping it just below the basket. Your arm should rest at a 90-degree angle, with the top of your thumb touching the basket. It’s also a good idea to wear your ski boots as you do this test, since you’ll stand slightly taller in your ski boots than street shoes.

If you don’t have access to a ski pole to determine the appropriate length, there’s a quick equation you can use to get an idea of what ski pole length will work best for you. Simply take your height and convert it to either inches or centimeters then multiply that number by 0.7. The result should give you a pole length height that rests at the top of your sternum, which is where most manufacturers recommend a standard alpine pole should fit a skier.

When determining appropriate pole length, it’s also important to consider where and what type of skiing you primarily do before you make your final selection. For instance, if you spend the majority of your ski days chasing deep powder or honing your freestyle skills in the terrain park, you’ll want to size down. If you’re a competitive ski racer or dedicated frontside carver, you may want to size up.


Ski poles are available in everything from composites to aluminum to carbon and bamboo. By far, the most commonly used material is aluminum. This is primarily due to its high strength-to-weight ratio and reliability. It’s important to keep in mind that not all aluminum is created equal. For that reason, you can’t expect to find the same quality of aluminum in an entry-level ski pole as you might find in a high-end racing pole.

Carbon is becoming increasingly more popular thanks to its stiff, responsive, and ultralight feel, which translates to less swingweight for fluid, quick pole-plants. The reduced weight of carbon also makes it a great option for backcountry or alpine touring ski poles. Composite ski poles, which are typically made from resins and fiberglass are the least expensive material used to construct ski poles. Though not as durable as aluminum or carbon, ski poles made from composites still tout a respectable strength-to-weight ratio, making them a good option when cost is a leading factor in your purchasing decision.

Grips and Straps

Ski pole grips are made from everything from rubber, plastics, dual-density plastics, and even cork. Ultimately, the type of grip that will work best for you will come down to a simple matter of preference. Straps also come in a variety of flavors, ranging from fixed to adjustable to padded and non-padded. Ski pole manufacturers have even developed proprietary strap systems (Atomic’s SQS and Leki’s Trigger S) that integrate with compatible gloves, along with breakaway straps that detach from the ski pole to prevent injury in the event of a crash. As with grips, the ideal wrist strap for you will come down to preference and the type of skiing you do most.


Selecting the right ski basket should be determined by the conditions you typically ski. If your home mountain averages upwards of 500 inches a year, you’ll want to choose ski poles with powder baskets. If you typically ski firm or icy conditions, with a few powder days here and there, you’ll be better off with a standard basket.


Unless you’re skiing particularly firm or icy conditions, it’s unlikely you’ll notice the tips of your ski poles. Ski pole tips are typically made from a variety of materials including steel, tungsten, or carbide. The main purpose of the tip of the ski pole is to pierce firm and icy surface conditions as you pole-plant and pivot into your next turn.