Classic cross country skiing relies heavily on properly using the right kind of poles. You'll need them for power, timing, balance and rhythm. If it's your first time, you'll be able to get by with a light, basic pole that is the right size, later graduating to more expensive poles as your skills improve.
This article is specifically about selecting the right ski poles for classic cross country touring. It is not a guide for choosing poles for the “skating” style of cross country skiing, nor backcountry skiing.
The Right Pair for You
When looking for cross country ski poles, you'll also notice that they run longer than downhill poles. This added length will help give you more propulsion as you're skating across flat surfaces. But just because they are longer doesn't mean the appropriate length shouldn't be taken into account. Although length can vary for specific purposes, as a general rule, look for cross country ski poles that go up to your armpits when the tip is on the ground.
Like downhill poles, cross country poles are made of different materials that offer several benefits, and are better for certain purposes. Poles are typically made of either metal or carbon fiber - both of which have their perks.
Aluminum is the most common pole material, replacing the fiberglass poles of 20 years ago. Compared to carbon, aluminum is harder to snap, less expensive, but slightly heavier. Note that there different grades of aluminum, with some being more durable than others.
Carbon fiber poles, however, typically receive rave reviews from their buyers, as they do not bend or dent like aluminum poles do. These non-metal poles are lighter aluminum ones, and made of a carbon/fiberglass composite. Generally, the more expensive the pole, the greater the ratio of carbon to fiberglass.
The two major types of baskets that are available are in-track touring baskets and the larger powder baskets. Touring baskets are ideal for packed or semi-packed snow conditions. They are small, solidly shaped, and are easier to extract them from snow than the larger powder baskets. Because of their compact size, they are less likely to snag on fallen branches. Powder baskets are larger, usually four inches or so diameter. If you think you will encounter deeper snow, opt for poles with powder baskets.
Ski pole grips are typically made of cork or plastic. If you are skiing bare handed on a sunny day, you will find that cork has a nice texture and feels less slippery than plastic. Grips made of plastic are durable and less expensive than cork.
Pole straps are designed to cradle the outside edge of your hand. This allows you to exert downward on the strap (and pole). Traditional straps are made of nylon webbing and work nicely. If you want to get the most forward propulsion, choose poles with performance straps. These act as harnesses for your hand and allow you to exert more downward pressure and get the most out of your technique.
Trekking Poles vs. Cross Country Poles
Many people often wonder if they can replace cross country ski poles in their outdoor gear arsenal with telescoping trekking poles. Although they have many similarities, the fact that cross country skiing requires aggressive pole use - you'll typically be pushing hard off your poles rather than just leaning on them for balance - you'll want to choose a pair designed for cross country skiing. As one of the greatest winter cardio workouts out there, you'll want to make sure you're geared up properly to get the most out of your experience.
So if you're looking to try out a new skiing adventure, start with the right skis and other cold weather gear, which will tremendously help you get your cross country legs.
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