Written by Jon Ahlsen: Background fact: I am 170 cm tall (5 ft 7 in)*
When I was young and learned to ski, skis were long and straight. With respect to poles, we were told to put the pole upside down, grab it under the basket and that the elbow then should be at 90 degrees. As racers we often chose poles longer than that. I think I used 125 cm poles. Skis have changed a lot since then, but we seem to be stuck thinking that this is still the appropriate pole length.
In this blog, I’d like to challenge this old “truth”. I think poles should be shorter than that, unless you’re racing and need the leverage out the start gate.
When I started my Ski instructor training, my poles were 120 cm. Now, a few years later, my poles are down to 110 cm and I’m considering cutting them down another inch or so.
Here’s my current thinking**: with a shorter pole, I feel freer to move forward into a new turn and I feel I have more room to move laterally. A longer pole forces me to move more up and often I end up slamming my wrists and/or leaving the pole planting arm behind me (causing issues with my upper body discipline). The up motion at the start of the turn is misdirected and moves me off my skis, with the ensuing late pressure of a “pop and twist” kind of turn. When I try to move my body to the inside of the line of my skis, I feel as though I end up putting weight on the pole although I don’t need to do so to remain balanced (meaning that the pole is stealing room from my body on the inside of the arc of the skis).
In bumps, the benefits of a shorter pole are probably more obvious to everyone.
I know that for some technical aspects, e.g. for someone over flexing at the knees, a long pole can help to achieve a more appropriately flexed stance. So as always, a shorter pole is not a quick fix for all that could be improved in our skiing, but it’s worth trying out to see if it works for you. I’ve convinced most of our training team this year to cut their poles down (sometimes by a full 10 cm) and it has helped everyone so far.
In short, I encourage you to try a pole that is at least five centimeters shorter than your current poles and see what you think.
*Ok ok ok, I lied. I’m 169 cm. It was a proud day when I, as a teenager, was handed a passport which listed my height as 170 cm. According to my current passport I’m only 169 cm, so I guess I’m over the hump and shrinking nowadays.
** I’m certainly not alone in thinking there are benefits to short poles. Many very good skiers at Interski had very short poles. Of course, other really good skiers had quite long poles…