Choosing Cross Country Ski Poles

Consider type of skiing, length and weight.

For recreational touring, choose a pole that fits under your armpit. If you ski slowly, fit it loosely under your arm. If you want to stride faster, go longer. Straight-shaft, inexpensive touring poles are probably fine.

For back-country skiing use an adjustable pole so you can suit the length to snow depth and terrain. Lengthen for striding, shorten for long climbs, shorten to downhill length for descending. It's great.

For fitness skiing, choose a pole that comes up to about mid shoulder when you're standing up straight with the pole held next to your body.

For the fastest skiing, choose a pole that reaches the top of the humerus bone, or roughly the height of your collarbone. Some people like racing classical poles even longer than this, but that's a choice you should wait to make until you've tried the recommended length. Too long a pole can throw off your balance, just as too short a pole can.

For skating, poles should come up to your chin or lower lip. This is much shorter than skating poles used to be, but the technique has evolved to a faster tempo, and shorter poles are lighter as well as quicker to move.

For classical or skating, higher performance poles have tapered shafts of aluminum or carbon fiber for lighter weight and better balance. You will love lightweight poles for skating, because you pick them up and set them down over and over many times as you ski. Light poles are really nice for classical, too, but you get to swing them down from your shoulder in classical, so the weight advantage isn't as immediately noticeable as in skating.

Warning: Once you buy lightweight skating poles you will be addicted.