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Cross Country Ski Poles: All You Need to Know

Cross country ski poles are defined by their three different components: their shaft, their grip, and their basket. Different poles cater to different types of skiers. At Gear West, we carry all types of poles, from touring to elite race. Click here to check out our full selection of poles. This guide will walk you through what makes a pole, and we'll suggest some poles to choose from based on your level of skiing.
 
For choosing pole length, ski poles differ in length depending on whether you are classic skiing or skating. Classic poles tend to be 7 to 10 centimeters shorter than skate poles to account for the striding motion in the classic technique. The general rule is that classic poles should come to the top of your shoulder, while poles for skating should come between your lips and nose. If you don't know exactly what length pole to buy, you can select an approximate size and then mention your height in the comments section on the checkout confirmation page. Alternatively, you can always call our knowledgeable staff at 877-473-4327 to make sure you get the right size.
 
Shaft
 
An ideal cross country ski pole shaft is light and stiff. The shaft will be the largest contributing factor to the pole's weight, which makes a difference over the hundreds or thousands of times you lift your arms in a race, and the stiffness allows for full power transfer from your arms to the snow. The stiffer a pole is, the more it allows that power to work toward driving you forward, instead of wasting energy on bending the pole.
 
Touring and recreational skiers tend to favor an aluminum or low end fiberglass shaft, as these can be fairly light, and power transfer is not a major concern of the recreational skier.
 
For the racing athlete, most pole shafts will be a mix between carbon fiber and fiberglass. More expensive models add progressively higher amounts of carbon, with the most expensive models featuring high grade epoxies and custom weaves or braids of carbon. The poles at the lower end of this line will serve new racers well, but as an athlete becomes stronger they will want to upgrade their poles to a stiffer, higher carbon percentage pole, as they will begin to notice that composite poles literally bend during poling, wasting precious energy.
 
Grip
 
A pole's grip will generally be made of either cork or plastic coated in rubber. While similar in weight, the cork is slightly softer and less abrasive than the rubber, and so is more commonly seen on high end race level poles. Cork grips are especially nice for roller skiing and pole running, when an athlete might not want to use gloves. Cork will also last longer than rubber under intene use. This makes rubber a perfectly good material for touring poles, as they will tend not to be held as aggressively and will generally be used with thicker gloves.
 
Basket
 
There are three broad categories of baskets: normal, Triac Basket System, and roller ski ferrules.
 
A normal basket will be attached to the end of the pole using hot glue, and can range from a small race basket to a large touring basket. Race baskets are smaller because they will only be used on groomed trails, and so do not need to spread out their impact on the snow as much, and to lower the swing weight of the pole in the quest for speed. Touring baskets, on the other hand, cover a much wider area, sacrificing weight for the ability to stay on top of the snow when off the packed trail.
 
The Triac Basket System (TBS) design makes it easier to change out pole baskets, and has the advantage of there being no glue involved-- rather than the normal procedure of heating up the tip of your pole until the glue softens and you're able to pull the basket off, you simply unscrew a cuff from the basket, slide it off, slide a new one on, and screw the cuff over this. The disadvantage of this is that roller ski ferrules are about double the price for the TBS. For many skiers, though, this is not a concern, as they will never change their baskets. This basket system is featured on Swix's upper end race poles.
 
Roller ski ferrules are the primary reason that people change their baskets. In the summer, to roller ski or run with poles on the road, you want a harder tip than the normal steel tip that comes on a basket, and so you get a ferrule which has a carbide tip. This ferrule will not have any extraneous basket parts on it (which are used in the winter to keep the pole at the top of the snow, and which become entirely unnecessary on pavement). 
 
Elite Race Poles
 
In the specifications lists below, stiffness refers to how good a pole is at transferring power (the lower the better), weight the physical weight of the pole (lower is better), and strength the durability of the pole (higher is better). All Elite Race Poles feature a cork grip and a race basket, with the Triac 2.5 and the Star featuring the TBS. The Team Pole can also come as a TBS pole, but the pole featured below is a normal basket.
 
At the top end of our pole lineup is the Swix Triac 2.5, a recently released pole that is the choice of top athletes all over the globe. 
Specs:
  • Stiffness: 23 mm
  • Weight: 56 gr/m
  • Strength: 70 kp  
  • Recommended use: Groomed trails, competition racing.

Our next pole offering is the all carbon Swix Star TBS Pole, which is incredibly light and wonderfully stiff. 

Specs:

  • Stiffness: 28 mm
  • Weight: 63 gr/m
  • Strength: 63 kp  
  • Recommended use: Groomed trails, competition racing.
The Swix Team Pole is our bestselling pole, striking a great balance between price point (only $134.95) and quality, as it is also 100% carbon. It is a great mass start pole, as it is very durable without sacrificing too much to stiffness and weight.

Specs:

  • Stiffness: 41.5 mm
  • Weight: 67 gr/m
  • Strength: 72 kp  
  • Recommended use: Groomed trails, competition racing.

Race Poles

The Swix Carbon Pole and Swix RC Pro are both reasonable poles in their own right, and are good for new middle and high school racers. Our most popular pole in this lineup is certainly the Swix RC Pro Pole. The Carbon comes with a cork grip, while the RC Pro has a rubber grip. The Carbon will be a bit stiffer and a bit lighter than the RC Pro.

Touring Poles

The Swix Touring Pole is a great touring pole. Its wide basket gives it plenty of purchase to keep it above the snow when breaking trail in the backcountry, and its aluminum shaft makes it one of the most durable poles. An additional benefit to an aluminum construction is that you will never be stuck without a pole; aluminum will bend but tends not to break, whereas a fiberglass or carbon pole will snap rather than bending, leaving it useless.

Questions?

Still have more questions? Feel free to give us a call at 877-473-4327 or email us at info@gearwest.com!

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1786 W Wayzata Blvd
Long Lake, MN 55356

Phone: 952-473-0377
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Email: info@gearwest.com

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Wisdom, Value, Selection. These three ideals are the core of Gear West. We bring you the best products for your sport, style, and skill at the best prices and back them with unparalleled knowledge and support.

North America's largest cross country ski retailer and one of Minnesota's premier independent specialty sports stores, Gear West provides top level gear for nordic, running, alpine, soccer, lacrosse, and boardsports athletes across the midwest and the United States. We provide equipment for athletes of every level, from first-timers and newcomers to professionals and Olympians.

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