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 (Stano) decided to share some personal experience and discuss the topic more.
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.
Currently, here is a great 25% sale offering a variety of cross-country ski poles, seems like all of them are under $100 and a lot around $50. Just be careful to pick the ones where hand straps can be easily removed.
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.
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.