Should you spring for top-of-the-line carbon poles or second-tier racing poles? How do you determine length? And what about the straps?

How much do poles matter anyway? Well, consider this: When skate skiing, more than 50 percent of the forward momentum can come from the pole stroke. When double-poling, the pole stroke is nearly 100 percent of the forward momentum. In other words, choosing the right pole matters. The right poles let you ski relaxed, transfers the power generated into propulsion, and allows for rhythm and flow.

Great poles are the sum of several features:

1. Travel. The pole should have a light, efficient travel. A heavy pole requires a lot of energy over the course of a day.

2. Stiffness. A stiffer pole ensures more of the power generated is transferred to forward propulsion.

3. Comfortable strap. Avoids blisters, tendinitis and hand injuries. A wider strap is generally better and tranfers more of the power to the pole stroke. A good strap also stays securely in place and automatically returns the pole to the starting position for the next poling cycle.

4. Cork handle. They are softer and reduce the chance of blisters, and also keep hands warmer.

5. A shaft that is light and stiff – usually made from carbon or carbon composite.

Length is crucial, and going too long is often worse than a tad too short. Different usage also affects what makes a perfect pole. Roller skiing and regular snow skiing put different tolls on the poles. Mass start events with lots of commotion and skiers stepping on other skiers’ gear can be hard on any pole, but is especially brutal on the most expensive, light-weight carbon poles.

Weight versus durability
Weight is only one part of the equation. Jon Fewster, who is the Global Catergory Manager for Poles and Boots at Madshus, points out that the second-tier poles can be a great value for a lot of skiers, including elite racers. The added strength and only marginal increase in in weight makes for a compelling compromise.

“The next tier of poles is more durable and almost as light as the top-level poles. Weight-wise, it almost comes down to this: Do you race with your watch on? How much time do you save with the marginally lighter pole versus how much time you would lose if a pole broke?” Fewster says.

Roller skiing takes an extra toll on poles
Top racers roller ski on the top racing poles, but they retire them from skiing when they do that. Roller skiing is a lot harder on the poles than skiing on snow, which is what the poles are designed for, and roller skiing will break down the carbon structures, says Fewster.

Accordingly, the top of the line carbon poles are more prone to break after being used for roller skiing, he explains.

There are also reported injuries with using the stiffest carbon poles for roller skiing, Fewster says. The second-tier poles are more than stiff enough for most roller ski training, while being slightly more forgiving on the body during endless pavement pounding, Fewster says.

That subtle difference can be enough to avoid tennis elbow and tendinitis overuse injuries that tend to come from roller skiing, Fewster says. However, those who compete in sprint roller ski races might consider to break out the top poles for those times.