How to choose the right length (and kind) of skimo racing poles for you

Some time ago someone posted a question on Skintrack about ski poles for skimo/rando racing. It never got fully addressed.

Recently, @peteyknight asked about skimo racing ski poles length during our live Twitter interview with Reiner Thoni. And I bet you are asking the same, so I decided to share some personal experience and discuss the topic more.

ski mountaineering racing world championships

Top 3 from vertical race at 2010 World Champs: in blue Dennis Brunod (he seems about 170-175cm tall), Florent Perrier in red/blue (about 180cm tall), behind Kilian Jornet was about to pass them, more on him below.

Feel free to share your experience and thoughts in the comments below. It will open more opportunities to benefit yourself in finding the most suitable poles for you.

Previous personal experience with racing poles

As anyone I started skimo racing with normal ski poles with full baskets, don’t remember the exact length though. There is nothing wrong with that as during this time you should be evaluating other aspects of your experience more, such as: “Do you like this type of racing? What turns you on to come back?”

After getting inspired by super-fast Euros I decided to put more energy into skimo racing. I noticed that their poles were longer than usual backcountry ski poles and that they were actually cross-country ski poles (smaller baskets too).

To shorten the story, I ended up with 140cm cross-country poles. I am 186cm (6’ 1.2”) tall so it seemed appropriate until I noticed that my shoulders and arms were getting quite tired even mid-way through each race. But still stuck with them.

Few years later a friend from a Spanish skimo team gave me his 130cm Ski Trab poles, he was about 170cm (5’ 7”). Sure, 130cm felt a bit short but was more comfortable on the steeps, in the switchbacks and on the downhills. I stuck with these for few seasons (they were free, eh) until I lost one. Then the dilemma began again. What length?

My racing poles now

In the last three seasons I use 135cm cross-country ski poles and find that length the most suitable overall. As I mentioned above, I am 186cm. My arm span (Wikipedia on arm span) is 186cm too which gives me about an average height to arm span ratio (this ratio is different for women). I am providing this info since I believe it is important to consider also your arm span, not just your height, when choosing your poles.

Some thoughts and examples

Perhaps, a super ideal length for my skimo race poles lies somewhere between 135 and 140cm. However, it is very difficult to objectively select the right one, so by relying on my feelings I am leaning towards 135-138cm, and only maybe 140cm for a flat vertical race.

This leads me to believe that some of the most advanced skimo racers would use, and train to effectively use, two different lengths. In the same time I believe it is very individual.

What length other people use:

Reiner Thoni at cca 188cm (6′ 2″) – 140cm poles (NA and Canada’s skimo champ).  You can read our interview by following Skintrack on Twitter and diggind in our history. The transcript is coming here soon.

Peter Svatojansky at 186cm (6′ 1″) – 138cm poles (podiums at Pierra Menta, World and Euro Champs). Read an older interview with Peter where he provided his ski poles info.

Melanie Bernier at 175cm (5′ 9″) – 130cm poles (3 x Canadian champ and a 5th place from a sprint race at World Champs 2011).

Kilian Jornet at 171cm (5′ 7″) – (best of the best last 3 years) from photos Kilian seems to be using quite long poles for his height, I would guess around 135cm. I also guess that he would be the one to use two different lengths – for individual race and for a vertical.

This video does a good job of showing how long poles the best use (in proportion). Not the best quality but you will get the idea:

How to choose your skimo (randonnee) racing poles?

Since all competitive skimo racers use cross-country (xc) style poles I suggest you consider them as well. Just be careful to pick the ones where hand straps can be easily removed.

Length:

Consider that the poles length should be suitable for all aspects of skimo racing – skinning, bootpack, and downhill.

Since most of xc poles can be cut to adjust length I would  suggest this formula:

  • if you are 190cm+ tall (6’ 3” +) buy 145cm and you can either cut them or keep as is
  • if you are 180-190cm (5’ 11” to 6’ 3”) buy 140cm, cut or keep
  • 170-180cm (5’ 7” to 5’ 11”) buy 135cm, cut or keep
  • 160-170cm (5’ 3” to 5’ 7”) buy 130cm, cut or keep
  • 160cm and less (less than 5’ 3”) probably buy 130cm, then cut or keep

Material and weight:

You have couple of choices:

  • Carbon is very strong and very light but most expensive. Need to be careful not to fall on them because it breaks, does not bend.
  • Aluminum is less expensive, strong but heavier than carbon or composite. Makes for a good beginner or training poles. Usually bends when you fall on it – you can still finish the race. Cheap aluminum poles bend way too much when you put lots of your weight on it, they are too soft.
  • Composite poles are a mix of materials. Price, weight and performance varies quite a bit. Similar qualities as carbon.
  • Fiberglass probably comes only with composites these days. I find it a bit too “bendy” when loaded.

Baskets:

Some xc poles come with very small baskets. You don’t want those. You need something smaller than backcountry skiing pole baskets but still big enough to provide some support when the snow is deep.

Figuring out the length:

See the length formula above before buying. Then it will take some time (maybe even few seasons) to find your ideal.

How about figuring this out with a length-adjustable mountaineering pole?
This only works if you manage to restrict how much of the tip sinks into the snow. Usually, tips on mountaineering telescopic poles can go as deep as 5-6cm. You want to restrict your test poles that only up to 1cm punches in, and then you can use this length as a reference.

What poles do you use? Questions, thoughts?

Share what poles you use and how tall you are. Or if you have any questions use the comments below to ask.

Comments

  1. Robin,
    Good question. There is no optimal length for skimo racing skis. Simply everyone uses as short as rules allow, to safe on weight. Yes, it would be better skiing on 180s but you would be surprised how well you can ski on 164cm. It’s just practice.
    Besides weight, the shorter the skis the easier it is to do kick-turns. It depends on skill, and you can do fast kick-turns even on light 180s, but in general everyone does better with shorter.
    But weight is the primary factor.

  2. Hi Stano,

    Very interesting article and I also really appreciate your new story on race skis: http://www.skintrack.com/skis-comparison/

    Related question: what is the optimal length of skimo race skis for skiers of different weights? Given that 90+% of the time is climbing with skins on, is the most energy efficient race ski shorter/longer/same as our preferred length for touring ski?

    Thanks!
    Robin

  3. Hi Michael, thanks for the info about yours and Nina’s experimenting with different lengths of skimo poles. And I see she and Veronika held on for 4th overall at Tour du Rutor, that’s great! I put together a short post about Rutor and Pierra Menta once I saw the great footage from TdR – http://www.skintrack.com/skimo-racing/events-races/2012-tour-du-rutor-pierra-menta-videos/

  4. Nina uses 127.5 cm but I am thinking of having her try 130 again. Two years ago she tried 130;s but felt they were a little long. I am 6’1″ and use 137.5 and 140. The world cup racers definitely are on the longerish side. I would say a good rule of thumb is about 15 cm or 17.5 cm less than what it says on the Swix Classic race pole length on their web site for your height. Just to brag a bit:

    Baskets and grips. Nina uses Swix CT 2 poles as they are not too expensive and stronger than the more expensive CT 1. The light race cork grips are the most comfortable but wear out the fastest. the rubber or harder cork grips last better–we put a biathlon strap on them and use the larger baskets for all races except uphills.

    Nina is currently ranked 2nd overall in france for women (ffme) and is in 4th place at the three day tour of rutor race in Italy.

  5. Thanks for sharing your specs Steve, such infos can help more people to solve their own “puzzle”. And thanks for your observations of the up-tracks too!

  6. Hi Stano. I am 175cm and go w/ 125cm poles. About what you comparatively would use. To my xc friends they seem quite short. For classic skiing I would use a 145cm. One consideration you didn’t mention is the type of uptrack. For N. American races they tend to mostly be on groomers. For Euro races it’s more skied in tracks w/ pole tracks quite built up and soft. For the latter especially you need a shorter pole. The shorter length also feels much better on the downhills. Especially on the steeps where a fwd pole plant is helpful, the shorter 125 (for me) pole is more manageable. Of coure you could go “American” as we call it up here in Canada where you don’t put your poles on for the downhill, but it makes those pole plants tougher and if you drop a pole…

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