Customer question: What kind of ski poles should I buy
We often get the following question from friends, family and strangers alike: What Black Diamond ski poles should I buy? Simple question, complicated answer. Black Diamond specializes in adjustable poles that are more versatile than fixed length poles, especially in the backcountry, and we have a wide range of price and feature options if you’re serious about dialing in each piece of your ski gear. Here’s some detailed information that’ll make your selection process a little easier and get you the right ski poles for you.
The main thing to consider when selecting poles is where all you’ll be skiing. Do you ski exclusively at the resort? Do you occasionally hit the side country and do short hikes outside the resort? Do you mix it up fairly evenly between resort and backcountry skiing? Or do you earn all of your turns in the backcountry? Come up with these answers first and then drill in deeper to our ski pole selection, which is divided into two distinct series (just like our skis and boots): Power and Efficient.
Power Series poles are stiff, larger diameter, hard charging poles, primarily for front (resort) and side country freeskiing. Here’s a breakdown with suggested uses for each Power Series pole:
• Carbon Probe: For front and side country. Robust, stiff, light, and adjustable. This pole’s lower shafts screw together to make an emergency avalanche probe in case something goes wrong where you’d least expect it.
• Fixed Length Carbon: The ultimate frontside (resort) ski pole. Light, strong and stiff but not adjustable. This carbon pole has a Kevlar-wrapped lower to take the abuse of your ski edges lap after lap.
• Expedition: For front, side and backcountry. This is our only 3-piece adjustable ski pole, which offers maximum collapsibility. If you ever hike with poles on your pack or ride down the mountain with poles on your back (hey, splitboarders!) this is the pole for you. The Expedition is also a great pole if you travel a lot because it packs down smaller than our 2-piece poles.
• Boundary: For front and side country. Stiff, light, aluminum adjustable, very affordable offering. If you’re skiing primarily at the resort but do get out and break trail occasionally, this is your most economical option. And for those who occasionally hit the terrain park and want a slightly shorter length for jibbing and airs but then want more length for the rest of the mountain, this pole is it.
Efficient Series ski poles are designed with backcountry travel in mind. These poles are lighter weight, have more minimal straps, and include grip extensions for quick choke-ups on climbs and side hills. If you’ve ever wrapped duct tape around your ski pole and you ski primarily off-piste earning most or all of your turns, these poles are for you.
• Pure Carbon: Our lightest offering, these all-carbon black beauties are the ultimate adjustable backcountry poles. If you do long tours or any ski hiking where you’ll appreciate light weight on the ups and stiff performance on the downs, these are the best of the best.
• Razor Carbon: Super sleek and thin, these lightweight poles have an aluminum upper and carbon lower. A slight cost savings from the Pure Carbon, these poles offer excellent backcountry performance for touring and yo-yoing laps.
• Traverse: Our most economical and versatile ski pole offering, via aluminum uppers and lowers. This workhorse gets it done season after season from the resort to the deepest backcountry forays.
Carbon vs. Aluminum: Carbon products in general are lighter and stiffer than their aluminum counterparts. (Carbon also absorbs more vibration—but this is not a huge factor in ski poles.) The downsides? Carbon is more expensive and may break if you fall on it with your body or whack it hard against a tree or rock. Aluminum poles can also break from hard impacts, but will usually bend first and may survive lesser impacts. Slightly bent poles can sometimes be re-bent back into usable shape. This is something to think about when you’re far from your car: an aluminum pole might get you back if it’s bent where a carbon pole that’s broken may not help you much. That said, if your primary concern is optimal ski and touring performance, and you’re willing to pay for it, choose the carbon and treat it with reasonable care.
Four Season Use: If you want the most options for 4-season use, consider one of our 3-piece trekking poles from our Mountain Series (like the Trail pole). Many of our Mountain Series poles come with powder baskets and make great ski touring poles. Keep in mind that our Expedition pole has a metal tip (not a flex tip) and won’t accept our rubber trekking tip protectors.
Pole sizing: This is most important when choosing fixed length poles but applies to where you should set your adjustable poles as well. As a general rule of thumb, for alpine skiing and alpine touring you want to have about a 90-degree bend in your elbow when you’re holding the pole grips and standing on your skis with your pole tips fully planted in the snow. If you’re testing for length in a store with shoes on, flip the poles upside down so the grip is on the floor and grab the pole tip just above the basket. Your elbow should have about a 90 degree bend. For telemark skiing, due to the lower stance, most people prefer their poles be slightly shorter (you will have a greater than 90 degree bend at the elbow in the above scenarios). Most skiers who both alpine and telemark ski adjust their poles about 5 cm shorter for tele than alpine, but this is personal preference. If you both alpine and telemark ski, one set of adjustable poles covers all your needs, which is just one of the many advantages to adjustable poles. Be aware that many of our adjustable poles come in two sizes so make sure you are choosing the size that offers the optimal max/min adjustment range you desire before hitting the buy button!