Gear – Poles for Ski Mountaineering

It is pretty common to hear people talk about their quiver of skis but I have to confess I have a quiver of ski poles. It is hard to believe that something as simple as a ski pole can get so specialized as to need more than one pair but here we are.

Carbon vs. Metal:

Pole material has a few big effects on function. The most important factors being weight, stiffness, and durability. Carbon and carbon – fibreglass composite poles usually win in the weight category as the lightest and stiffest but are limited by their durability. It is common for high end Nordic ski poles to be pure carbon even though these are more brittle and likely to fracture compared to their aluminium counterparts. Nordic ski races are usually less demanding on equipment than a skimo race or a mountaineering trip. Nordic skiers are also allowed to take a new pole from a coach or spectator during a race while a skimo racer must finish the race (or drop out) on their broken equipment. Aluminium is usually the material of choice for ski mountaineering as they can be fairly light and are usually sufficiently durable.

Adjustable vs. Fixed:

An adjustable pole can be very useful for general use in and out of the backcountry. Depending on the snow conditions, more length might be useful in deep snow while a shorter pole would be preferred for the descent. Most of my backcountry poles are adjustable but a standard alpine ski style pole would certainly work as well. For a dedicated racer though, a fixed length pole is a stiffer and therefore more efficient.

Standard vs. Self-Arrest:

For rando racing and most tours, a standard type pole grip is the way to go. Steep skiers who want a little more security punching up a steep couloir or skiing in no fall territory might use something like the Black Diamond Whippet or a similar self-arrest style grip.

Self-Arrest Grip

Basket Type:

Three main basket types are available. A standard Nordic racing basket (1) is the lightest and the choice for piste. A typical full-size touring basket (3) is the choice for powder days or races where the course goes off-piste. My current favorite for pretty much everything is a hybrid style (2). The Leki version is called the contour basket. This has a wider touring style basket with the tip at the edge allowing better bite on hardpack but still maintaining floatation in deeper powder. I have both my race and touring poles set up with these at the moment and am very happy. The contour baskets are removable and can be switched with a standard touring version if needed.

LEKI Pole Basket Types

Strap Type:

Most touring or alpine ski poles come with a loop or biathlon style strap (1). Nordic ski poles use a velcro-in, palm covering racing strap (2). Loop style is simple and makes it easy to take the poles on and off. Nordic race style will keep your poles attached even if you let go, are more comfortable, and allow release of the pole during skating. Unfortunately they are more difficult to put on and remove. Fumbling with a strap could cost valuable seconds during a transition. Leki has developed a race strap that allows the poles to be removed while keeping the strap on with a simple trigger mechanism (called the TriggerShark). This feature also allows athletes to use gloves with integrated straps (review coming soon). The Cima model and most of the Nordic race poles are equipped with this strap type. Currently I use a loop type strap for skimo races for its simplicity but I have been experimenting with the TriggerS version.

Pole Strap Types

My Quiver:

  • LEKI Aergon Carbon
  • LEKI Cima Titanium
  • BD Expedition Adjustable
  • BD Whippet
  • (And 4 pairs of Excel World Cup Nordic racing poles)
LEKI Aergon II Speedlock Ski Pole LEKI Aergon II Speedlock Ski Pole

My go-to do-it-all pole is the LEKI Aergon II Speedlock. Click here to support the site and purchase a Leki pole from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *