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Your ski poles are probably too long

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Most people use the standard "forearms parallel to ground when pole is planted" metric when buying ski poles.  I believe this causes most people to buy poles that are much too long, making it more difficult to ski aggressively or on steep terrain.

 

For years I used poles that were "correct" according to the parallel forearm rule.  When I switched to poles that were 3"-4" too short, my technique and confidence improved dramatically.  The shorter poles forced me to keep my body more forward, more square to the hill, and lower...and pole plants became a natural part of the turn instead of an awkward initiation.

 

Conversely, too-long ski poles cause the following problems:

1) Upright, stiff, awkward stance

2) Pole plant comes too early in the turn, before you've committed

3) Can "cheat" by not having body square to the hill

4) As a result of 1), 2), and 3), you continually end up in the backseat

 

My contention: most people could improve their skiing by using shorter poles.  Try renting or borrowing a size down from your current set.

 

Discuss.

 

post #2 of 10
That old test is highly dependent on what's on your feet.  I think if you do the test in typical street shoes, by the time you get in your ski boots and click into skis (which adds 2-3 inches of height right there) it works out pretty well -- the poles will effectively be shorter. 
 
I arrived at a good length many years ago, and stick with it.  It took experimentation, but I'm happy with it at this point.  I can tell right away, by feel, when skiing with a pole that is too long or two short.  It's a strange feeling.
 
I'll say this, when skiing steep terrain, I sure wouldn't want any shorter of a pole when I reach down the fall line for a plant.

Edited by skier219 - Tue, 03 Feb 09 04:22:03 GMT
post #3 of 10

Or just buy adjustable poles, then you can cater your pole length to the terrain.

post #4 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by spatters View Post

My contention: most people could improve their skiing by using shorter poles.  Try renting or borrowing a size down from your current set.

 

Discuss.

 

 

You draw sweeping conclusions for everyone from experience with yourself.  That seems unwise.  Maybe some people have poles that are too short, and would benefit from longer poles.  Hard to say without looking at the individual skier.

 

FWIW, I think you put too much emphasis on the poles, period.  Your contention could be just as easily about skiing with no poles at all.  Try it in the sketchiest terrain you can find and learn that balance doesn't come from your poles.

post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 

skier219: Even in bare feet, my poles are still about 1.5"-2" shorter than "standard", meaning I'm easily 3" down in street shoes.  ("Standard" means flip the pole upside down, grab just below the basket, and adjust until forearms are parallel to the floor.)

 

Interestingly, I feel more confident on extremely steep terrain with the shorter poles, because in addition to everything I've already mentioned, they don't force my arm into as contorted a position as I complete the turn.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Garrett View Post

You draw sweeping conclusions for everyone from experience with yourself.  That seems unwise.  Maybe some people have poles that are too short, and would benefit from longer poles.  Hard to say without looking at the individual skier.

 

FWIW, I think you put too much emphasis on the poles, period.  Your contention could be just as easily about skiing with no poles at all.  Try it in the sketchiest terrain you can find and learn that balance doesn't come from your poles.

 

Of course everyone is different.  That's why I'm advising people to try it for themselves.

 

One can certainly get used to skiing without poles, and it's a good balance drill, much like skiing with your boots unbuckled...but funny you mention it: just yesterday I was skiing very steep, sketchy terrain without poles (on lightweight AT gear, no less), and I can absolutely guarantee that a great deal of balance comes from your poles.  Not because the pole plant holds you up -- it doesn't -- but for the same reason that an acrobat on a high wire carries a long pole.  Holding the weight of a ski pole away from your body increases your stability.  Plus it lets you lean into the hill more.

 

My hope is that some other people will try this and tell me what they think.

 

post #6 of 10
Quote:

just yesterday I was skiing very steep, sketchy terrain without poles (on lightweight AT gear, no less), and I can absolutely guarantee that a great deal of balance comes from your poles.  Not because the pole plant holds you up -- it doesn't -- but for the same reason that an acrobat on a high wire carries a long pole.  Holding the weight of a ski pole away from your body increases your stability.  Plus it lets you lean into the hill more.

 

My hope is that some other people will try this and tell me what they think.

 

OK, here's what I think: First, in my experience a difference of a few cm (and I've used poles of various lengths) isn't going to significantly affect your stability. All it'll do is affect your stance, more compact versus more upright everywhere. Which varies for each of us anyway; whatever floats your boat technique-wise. When I'm on AT and skins, I tend to be more upright when I'm walking for obvious reasons, including the mild approach slope and the boot flex angles. Longer poles would probably be useful. Is this what you're getting at?

 

Second, I doubt the acrobat analogy holds up if you work out the physics of those few extra cm.

 

Third, if you're holding your poles way away from your body, like a circus acrobat, it would seem to increase your inertia from one turn to the next and increase the likelihood you'll get your outside arm backseat and uphill.  

 

Last, if you're using your long poles to "lean into the hill" (my underline) on the steeps, IMO you're not skiing them correctly. You should be projecting down and away from the incline, both in terms of setting up your next turn, and because as any climber knows, if you lean into the mountain, you reduce your boot sole angle (or ski edge angle here), which makes you more, not less, likely to lose your edge and slide. Which can be very bad news if you're at the top of a chute. Go check out some shots of strong skiers on serious steeps. Their CM is very dynamic, really charging ahead of their skis.  

 

My .02, anyway. 

post #7 of 10

beyond's reply let me in on what you likely meant with that "lean into the hill more" comment.  I read that before and was confused.   Yeah, like beyond says...don't do that.

 

To clarify, yes, poles are extremely important for fine balance.  They are not where the balance comes from, as your arms/poles should be mostly free, while your legs are slidingly engaging the earth nearly constantly...that is where your balance starts.  Personally, when I grab longer or shorter poles, my pole plants just form larger/smaller angles.  It doesn't really change my stance or skiing much.  The poles are nice to have, but the balance and stance in a large sense comes from my technique, not from the length of my poles.

post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by beyond View Post

OK, here's what I think: First, in my experience a difference of a few cm (and I've used poles of various lengths) isn't going to significantly affect your stability.

 

All it'll do is affect your stance, more compact versus more upright everywhere. Which varies for each of us anyway; whatever floats your boat technique-wise.

 

 

beyond: You're starting to understand.  My contention is that the standard pole length metric often forces people into too upright of a stance for aggressive skiing, and that a shorter pole length forces a more compact stance that works better for aggressive skiing -- in several different ways, which I listed in the first post.

 

You're correct that the extra pole length is irrelevant to balance when the pole isn't planted: I only brought it up as a contrast to no poles at all.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by beyond View Post

Third, if you're holding your poles way away from your body, like a circus acrobat, it would seem to increase your inertia from one turn to the next and increase the likelihood you'll get your outside arm backseat and uphill.  

 

No one skis like that (at least I hope not!) But no one holds their poles glued to their legs, either -- particularly during the part of the turn where the pole plant occurs. We know the pole plant is important...but we also know it's not holding us up, because we're not jabbing the pole into the ground.  The reason it's important is because the inertia provides extra balance during that critical transition. 

 

On steep slopes, you'll notice that the trailing pole naturally comes forward as the planted pole goes behind you, keeping one pole to each side of your body.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by beyond View Post

Last, if you're using your long poles to "lean into the hill" (my underline) on the steeps, IMO you're not skiing them correctly. You should be projecting down and away from the incline, both in terms of setting up your next turn, and because as any climber knows, if you lean into the mountain, you reduce your boot sole angle (or ski edge angle here), which makes you more, not less, likely to lose your edge and slide.

 

Bad analogy. Climbers ascend slopes that are near or past vertical. Snow doesn't stick to slopes much over 50 degrees, and slopes > 45 degrees are very, very rare inbounds. People generally start crapping their pants past 40 degrees sustained.

Quote:
Originally Posted by beyond View Post

 

Which can be very bad news if you're at the top of a chute. Go check out some shots of strong skiers on serious steeps.

 

Like this?

 

 

 

Or this?

 

 

This is why I don't post here much: it only takes a few posts in any discussion here for people to start telling me that I don't know how to ski and don't know what I'm talking about -- and I don't enjoy feeling like I have to prove myself every time I write a post.

post #9 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by spatters View Post

This is why I don't post here much: it only takes a few posts in any discussion here for people to start telling me that I don't know how to ski and don't know what I'm talking about -- and I don't enjoy feeling like I have to prove myself every time I write a post.

Protip: Stop drawing sweeping conclusions for everyone based on your personal, limited experience, and this will stop happening.

 

I read a post yesterday about a skier who accidentally came into larger poles and was quite happy with the change....made me smile and think of you.

post #10 of 10

FWIW, in the past couple of years I have experimented with using different pole lengths and poles with different swing-weights. For me (5' 10", 170 lbs), and just me - so bear in mind it is my personal opinion, I have found that as a result of experimenting I generally preferred poles a couple of inches shorter (46) than those I had used for many years (48). This shocked me at first, but it seems that my old longer length poles were a little in my way when I was skiing at higher speeds on groomers and generating high angles, bringing my body closer to the snow. OTOH, on VERY steep terrain I found that I generally preferred something closer in length to my old poles, since I am reaching forward and further down the hill when I tap my pole on the snow during turn initiation, and on VERY steep terrain the extra pole length seemed more comfortable - for me.

 

The swing-weight thing was interesting too, as some poles swing a little differently than others based on their weight and how that weight is distributed along the length of the pole. I have generally preferred "quicker" swing-weights where there is less mass at the bottom of the pole, and more of the mass is up higher on the pole. This configuration is lower inertia (requiring lower centrifigal force) and seems more responsive as I mix up my turns while skiing varrying terrain. Having said this, I know some folks who prefer a "slower" swing-weight to help them generate a more constent rhythem to their turns.

 

I have not tried the adjustable poles that the back-country folks like, since I have always been concerned about the strength, reliability, and setting repeatibility of the adjustment collet. I would also think that more mass is distributed further down the pole as well, since the collet is halfway down the pole. It's easy enough to swap poles with a friend for a run or two while you're out skiing, and if you have enough friends you can try all of the options.

 

Hope my personal experiences are interesting, but more importantly I encourage experimenting yourself!

 

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