The Critical Link
It is important to understand how crucial poles are to your cross-country skiing experience: they are one of only two ways for you to propel yourself across the snow. It is important that your poles are adequately stiff and have a low swing weight. Poles that are not stiff enough will absorb a significant portion of your energy—energy that would otherwise be propelling you forward. The longer the pole shaft, the stiffer and lighter it needs to be. Poles that are heavy have a high swing-weight that requires more energy to move the pole through the air and can throw off your timing, especially when skating. Cross-country skiing is all about efficiencies and having stiff, light poles makes a huge difference. Not all poles are created equal and it is important to find a pole that meets your needs.
Finding the Pole that is Right for You
When approaching a new pole purchase, it is best to keep in mind what your poling priorities are and what performance level you want. First, it is best to establish what category of pole shaft you are looking to find. The 100% “high modulus” carbon poles will be the choice for serious racers and for those seeking the highest performance, the 100%-80% carbon (non-high modulus) poles can work well for price-conscious recreational and high school racers. Composite (carbon and fiberglass) poles are a good option for recreational skiers and those looking for a pole that is more forgiving in a crash and for those looking to keep their setup affordable. Aluminum poles are most affordable and work well for children and for side country touring.
Keep in mind that as poles get longer, the weight and softness of lower-end poles becomes more pronounced. If you are a tall person (using 160cm or longer) it is recommended to find a pole with a carbon content of 80% or more. There are more nuances to these categories, so don’t be afraid to ask a salesperson if you have questions.
Once you have established your pole category, the discernible differences among your options will be strap and grip design, stiffness, swing weight and price. Keep in mind that though similar poles look the same on paper, each will have its own unique characteristics. Try each pole on, swing it back and forth and find a solid place to push down on the pole to test its stiffness. Pay close attention to how the strap and grip feel on your hand. Don’t forget that this is an important purchase and don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Finally, before you leave the shop, try the straps on to make sure that they are the right size. It can be very disappointing to try your new poles for the first time only to discover that the strap is too large or too small. Usually, it is possible to exchange for different sizes at the time of purchase.