Selecting Properly Sized Ski Poles

Turn the pole upside down, rest the handgrip on the floor near your feet. Grip the pole below the basket. If your elbow is at a 90 degree angle, you’ve got the correct size. If that all works for you, you may click off this page. If you want to know more, schuss on down…

This is a General Chart only — nothing beats actually measuring and checking the pole!
Skier’s Height Suggested Pole length Inches/cm
under 3’4″ 32″/80 cm
3’5″- 3’8″ 34″/85 cm
3’9″ – 4′ 36″/90 cm
4’1″ – 4’4″ 38″/95 cm
4’5″ – 4’8″ 40″/100 cm
4’9″ – 5′ 42″/105 cm
5’1″ – 5’3″ 44″/110 cm
5’4″ – 5’6″ 46″/115 cm
5’7″ – 5’9″ 48″/120 cm
5’10” – 6′ 50″/125 cm
6’1″ – 6’3″ 52″/130 cm
6’4″ – 6’6″ 54″/135 cm
6’6″ + 56″/140 cm
NOTE: If you have arms that are shorter than average for your height, you’ll likely need to move up in size. If you have arms like an orangutan, you may require a shorter pole. The key is to find a pole that you can plant and turn comfortably with.


diagramHere’s the old way this was done: Stand up straight, hold both arms straight out in front of you, forearms parallel to the ground, thumbs up. Without moving your elbows, raise your hands up about three to four inches. Roll your wrists so that your pinkies are parallel to the floor…that’s where your poles should be. Have someone measure from the floor to your thumb…

Again, this is the old school method. Because skiing styles and arm lengths vary, your best bet is to rent poles sometime, and try a couple different pole lengths through the day. Or just pick up a couple different pairs when you see them at flea markets, swaps,

If you have the luxury of being in a ski shop and are selecting from a rack of different poles, turn the pole upside down. Grab it right below the basket (what is really the top of the basket) and if your arm is at a 90 degree angle, you’re good to go.

Why is pole length so critical? Well, if you’re skiing with short poles, you’re hunkering down to hit the snow — and out of balance forward when you pole at a turn. If you ski with long poles, you’re leaning back to compensate, and your balance is off accordingly. If you need to “scrounge” or borrow a pair of poles and can’t find any the right length, remember to opt for poles that are too long over poles that are too short and just try to grip as low as you can.

* * * * * * *

What about “Baskets”? In case you just fell off the turnip truck, “baskets” are those round thingies near the ends of your poles. They are placed to allow a couple inches of pole to stick in the snow — and prevent you from stuffing the entire pole into the snow. There are a lot of varieties of baskets, so we’ll try to decipher them for you.

  • Small Baskets work best on East Coast & Midwest hardpack, Cascade concrete, and Western groomers. They do not work effectively in deep western powder or in the backcountry; skiers sometimes plant a pole with small baskets in powder and find they’ve left it behind. On the hardpack, the nice small basket is less likely to snag, and less likely to be torn up when used as a brake.
  • Big Baskets work best in powder and in the backcountry. The larger basket simply “floats” better in deep snow, so it makes your pole plants what they should be. Small baskets tend to go in too far in powder, throwing off your turn motion.
  • Snowflakes & Steel Rings These are old school. They work — not as well as the new technology — but they sure make a statement. Steel rings attached with rubber tend to break very easily, so if you find a pair of these, you’ve really got something. Another forgotten beauty is the large, solid egg-shaped basket. Skiing with any of these is an old school statement, and not nearly as hideous as a one-piece dayglo ski suit.
  • Giant Leather/Bamboo Baskets These are also old school, but they’re cross-country old school. Don’t use these unless you are demonstrating 1940s era antique wood skis or something of that ilk.

* * * * * * *

Composite vs. Aluminum More than anything, this is a matter of preference. Aluminum and old stainless poles are heavy; composite poles are not. The advantage to a composite pole is that it won’t bend when you rap it against your boots to knock snow off. Aluminum poles will bend, and eventually break from doing that, but they do have a more solid feel when you plant them. Which do you like?

Personally, I like heavy metal poles that make the snow bleed. If you spend a lot of time at crowded metropolitan areas, you’ve seen wise-guys zoom past people resting on the side of the trail, inches away. I used to have a giant pair of aluminum Barrecrafters with enormous solid plastic handgrips. I’d wait until Mr. Wiseass was swooping in, then plant one of those babies a couple feet away. The sudden wide-eyed look of terror was priceless. Believe me, they’d rather hit a lift tower than one of those poles.

Along the same lines as aluminum vs. composite are “curved” poles such as a racer might use. Unless you’re a serious, competitive racer, these are not necessary. Same goes for the “aero” poles vs. the regular old round poles. The fancy shaped poles are a bit silly, but again, if you like ’em, use ’em.

* * * * * * *

Avoid ski pole theft: Believe it or not, the most frequently stolen items at most ski areas are not bags with nice clothing inside, not the pricey phat powder skis, but the $45 pair of poles you place next to your skis on the rack. People drop a pole, bend a pole, lose a pole — it is so convenient to simply replace their broken poles with your nice new poles! The best way to avoid this is to lock them up with a Ski Tote…but we don’t want to be seen with one of those, now do we?

Another trick people use to avoid stolen poles is to put one on the rack over here, and the other pole in the corner over there. After all, a thief wants matched poles too! But that’s really only going to minimize the likelihood that both of your poles will be stolen. Unfortunately a lot of people break a pole, drop a pole from the lift, etc. When they find what looks like a single orphaned pole on the rack, they assume it won’t be missed.

Point is you really can’t win. Best bet? Figure it’s bound to happen sooner or later, and travel with an extra pair of poles in your car.

Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down.