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7 Different Types of Downhill Skiing Poles

A pair of ski poles on ski resort.

If you are new to skiing, purchasing downhill skiing poles can feel like a daunting task the first time that you start looking at them. There are many different types, with different sizes, different poles for different conditions, various kinds of construction materials, and extras.

There is so much to know about getting the right pole, that you might even just want to give up before you’ve made the purchase. I don’t want that to happen to you. Your first set of poles should be an exciting experience.

Learn more about the different types of downhill skiing poles here.

The History of Downhill Skiing Poles

Woman skier skiing on downhill.

The first downhill skiing poles was born thousands of years ago in 3623 B.C. some sources say. However, a picture dated 4000 B.C. on a cave painting illustrates a man with one in Norway. That is because skiing is an activity that has been enjoyed since the  beginning of time for a number of reasons.

The first skiing poles were born of necessity, and rudimentary construction focused on balance, turning, and being able to turn on big mountains such as the Alps.

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Many of them were used for hunting, and needed to be of durable materials so that they could effectively be used to provide food for the families at the time. At first, only one pole was used when people were traveling through mountains on skis, with the use of two poles coming into existence in 1741.

When two poles came into use, skiers found there was much more balance and control on the snow than with the use of just one pole. The activity, although a necessity for travelling in difficult conditions, would soon become more enjoyable and would become a sport.

It was 1933 when the new design of ski poles was created by John Dickson, and steel became a popular material for tools. By 1959, lightweight models of ski poles were developed by changing the shape of a golf club into a ski pole.

The new ski pole would make it easier for turning on rougher terrain. Today, materials and technology have advanced to mass-produce ski poles, and create a lightweight product that is carbon fiber-packed.

How to Determine the Right Size of the Ski Pole?

Man skier standing next to a pair of ski poles.

When you are looking for ski poles, the size of the ski pole will be significant. Without the right size, you are not going to be able to plant the pole properly and it will impact your skiing experience. Too long, and your technique suffers, too short, and safety becomes an issue.

You can check if the pole is the right length by flipping it over and putting the grip on the ground. The basket is the small component on the end of the pole. Hold the section just underneath the basket while the grip is on the ground.

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You will know you have the right size of ski pole if your elbow is at a right angle or 90-degree angle when you are holding the pole.

If you are ever confused about what size to get or are growing and still haven’t reached your growth potential, you want to get a pole that is shorter for now. The 90-degree angle is the goal when selecting the right size of ski pole.

You will also notice that there are different sizes of ski poles for different types of downhill skiing. Shorter poles work better on terrains such as backcountry, powder skiing, or pipe skiing.

The kind of terrain you are using will also have a significant impact on your ski pole size as well, because of the moves that you are going to be making.

A mogul skier focuses on turns and bumps while touring skiers are simply looking to skin the mountains and come back down. Mogul skiers need shorter poles and finding one that is adjustable is preferred. Touring skiers practice ascending and will need longer poles to navigate that terrain.

A racing skier is going to focus on finding a pole that is light so that they have the aerodynamics that they need, and you will find these poles are slightly more curved for this purpose.

Whenever you are in doubt of what kind of pole to get for your sport, adjustable poles are the way to go.

Here is the most ideal sizing chart for pole length by your height:

  • Up to 3’8” tall: 34-inch pole
  • 4’ tall: 36-inch pole
  • 4’4” tall: 38-inch pole
  • 5’ tall: 42-inch pole
  • 5’3” tall: 44-inch pole
  • 5’6” tall: 46-inch pole
  • 5’9” tall: 48-inch pole
  • 6’ tall: 49-inch pole
  • 6’3” tall: 52-inch pole
  • 6’6” tall: 54-inch pole
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Types of Ski Poles by the Terrain

Skier holding pair of ski poles on downhill.

When you are purchasing ski poles, terrain matters as much as size does. There are different types of terrain to consider.

1. All-mountain ski poles

All-mountain skiing on real snow is the most adventurous, and you will want to get the right size with baskets that will work in your favor. You will want to spend time finding the right size.

2. Powder ski poles

Powder skiing on snow that isn’t real is best with shorter poles. This is a type where you are lifting arms a lot, and you need to consider that when selecting your pole. Bigger baskets at the end of the pole are ideal.

3. Backcountry ski poles

Backcountry skiing has more depth of snow and you want a sturdier pole here. One with an adjustable size will work, and you want grips that have hooks to help keep you secure when you are skiing.

4. Alpine ski poles

Alpine poles are the most common type of ski pole and they are most often used for downhill skiing on any type of terrain. These have a more comfortable and secure handle with a good grip.

You will like the shaft that is straight and the standard-sized basket. Newer models will have additional baskets that come in handy for different conditions.

5. Freestyle ski poles

A freestyle pole is also known as a park pole, and they are characterized by larger baskets with thinner shafts. This helps you ski faster on flatter terrains and surfaces. You can also use these well with snowshoes and other authentic snowy terrains.

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6. Powder ski pole

A powder ski pole is created just for powder skiing, as that terrain requires a different kind of grip.  These shafts are thicker and will cushion any impact when you are skiing. These are also adjustable if that is more comfortable for you.

7. Ski racing poles

Ski racing is the last type of ski pole and these are designed with speed in mind. You will find these to be the lightest ski pole made and will help with speed and drag on the slopes. These may be more expensive as it is usually the material that contributes to the speed of this design.

Construction Materials for Ski Poles

A pair of ski poles on snow ground.

Construction materials for ski poles will vary, with the most common being aluminum. Ski poles need to be sturdy so that you can enjoy the sport while also staying safe.

Aluminum poles are favored by many because they check all the boxes. They are both strong and light at the same time, and they are relatively affordable. They will be the most common kind of pole purchased.

Carbon poles are also favored as they are strong, and they are made of carbon fiber. You can’t bend or break these poles, but the price tag certainly reflects that. A composite pole will blend all of the above with carbon, aluminum, and even sometimes graphite. The advantage of a composite pole is that it has shock absorption.

One disadvantage of composite poles is that they are lightweight, and this leads to easier breakage or bending. Fiberglass poles are another kind of ski pole, and these are typically used by downhill skiers that want a strong pole that is very thin. Fiberglass may be considered the strongest skiing pole, and its cost hovers between aluminum and carbon.

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Grips, Straps, and Baskets Oh My

Ski poles flat lay on wooden table.

After size and construction, you want to find the features of the ski pole that mean the most to you. The most common features considered when people buy ski poles are grips, straps, pole tips, and baskets.


The grips on a ski pole are on the section of the ski pole that you would hold. There are many different kinds. The kind of grip you will like will depend on if you wear gloves or not. There are many different kinds, some with finger molds for gloved hands.

If you like mittens more, you can choose smoother grips without worrying about finger grooves. Grips will also vary by size.

Pole Straps

The pole straps of a ski pole are important because they need to fit so that you can practice your skiing skills without worrying about fit. These are straps that will go around your hand to help you hold the ski pole. Many straps today are in loops.

If you fall when you are skiing, the poles will stay near you when you do. It will depend on what kind of skiing you do though. Alpine skiers, for example, prefer the loop-type straps because they are easily removed or used when on the hills. Some straps will also have snaps or click for you so that you can remove them very easily.

Snow Baskets

The snow basket of a ski pole is important as it will move away from the snow that could impede your performance or the performance of the pole. Snow baskets are made for specific types of snow, hard or soft. They are designed to prevent the pole from going too deep into the snow.

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Soft snow baskets will be larger for powder skiing. Hard snow baskets will be smaller and are designed to help keep you stable on harder surfaces. It is possible to change the size of the basket depending on the terrain and your needs.

Large baskets usually aren’t necessary, as most runs are constructed to ensure that a lot of extra snow isn’t a concern. Most runs have shallow snow just deep enough to ski on safely. If you are skiing in a new terrain or a run that has not been maintained that way, you may need a larger basket.

For downhill skiers that want to run on powder, you will likely want to consider a wider basket. That snow can feel deep and a larger or wider basket will help to provide the surface area needed to whisk away extra snow. Without it, the pole would sink into the snow and it could get very dangerous.

If you are a true athlete, you will see smaller baskets on the poles of skiers that race. Baskets will interfere with the aerodynamics of the pole, making a smaller basket preferred.

How to Make the Most of Your Ski Poles?

Young man skier skiing on downhill.

It is possible to ski without poles, but poles make for an easier and more enjoyable experience. It can also be safer to ski with poles. For turns, you will definitely need poles to help you navigate the slopes.

You may begin to learn how to ski without them, as it is a common technique of instructors to remove the ski poles as you get used to the skis.

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This allows you to focus on what to do with your legs when you are just learning how to use skis. If you don’t know what you are doing with the poles, they can actually be a safety hazard when you are just learning.

It’s very easy to begin to depend on the poles when you first start using them. They aren’t used to support your weight, but rather, to help you glide along in the snow. Once you are comfortable with the ski, you will begin to use the poles, and learn how they give you extra rhythm.

Overall, the poles will help you to time your runs perfectly. It will take practice. Learn how to hold your hands in front of you and plant the pole when you are turning. When you are just learning, your teacher will likely have you use skis without poles, and your hands in front of you.

The pole plant is a move in itself, and it helps to cue a turn that is coming up, while helping you get into position. With a ski pole, you’ll learn how to stay balanced without putting your weight on the pole.

They will also help you to get up when you fall, so making the most of your ski poles involves ensuring that you use them for what they are for, and not for holding your weight. You’ll begin to love skiing more when you do.