Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Poles for Ski Mountaineering Racing

I don’t come from a ski racing background (cross country or downhill). I didn’t know that you could spend $100 on a small brick of wax that makes ski bases so slippery that skins can’t stick to them. And I certainly didn’t know that you could spend $500 on a pair of poles! Frankly, I didn’t see the point of spending more than $40 on a pair of sticks that get bashed and crashed or lost, stolen, and forgotten. Fancy grips, pole straps, baskets, adjustment systems, and exotic materials promising greater strength, stiffness, and lighter weight don’t really justify the additional cost. I just wish that cheaper poles came with powder baskets, especially since everyone and their dog is now skiing on fat skis and should theoretically be chasing after scarce powder, not bashing gates on groomed runs.

Lately, I’ve been using cheap but flexy $20 Komperdell xc poles for my backcountry skiing. I don’t have much desire to change the length of my pole throughout the day. The skinny xc grips are pretty good for plunging into the snow, and the xc basket and tip provide enough float and don’t get in the way when I’m scratching across an icy sidehill.

But skimo racing is different. The clock is ticking. Each time I lift the ski poles up to plant them again further up the mountain costs me energy. I’m not a double-poling xc skier reaching high and crunching down low demanding ultimate stiffness, but I prefer not to have to think about my poles bowing under my measly single pole plants. So I use my trusty Dynafit SR Race poles. But like any concerning ski mountaineering racer, I’m wondering if they present the best bang for the buck, and what sort of performance advantages I can obtain for minimal costs.
This scale shot had me curious. Here Yannick Ecoeur's Swix Triax 1.0 ($400+) poles are shown to weigh 146g in what I am assuming is a 140cm length. XC poles are often quoted in g/m without grips and baskets, so it is nice to see a real world weight.
Ski mountaineering poles are nothing more than xc poles with larger baskets and straps that are easy to get in and out of (Leki’s shark system is also very popular for ski-mo), possibly with reinforcement. One can buy ski-mo poles off the shelf…er web from Dynafit, Ski Trab, La Sportiva, ATK-Race, Crazy Idea, Gabel, Komperdell, and Leki among others, but I wondered how the value of these compared to much more common xc poles, especially if they were placed on sale!

So I looked into the weights and costs of various ski-mo and xc poles. Many of these weights are claimed, some are verified by others, and some are estimated by comparing a verified or claimed weight of one pole to the unit tube weight (g/cm) of a pole from the same manufacturer. The measured and claimed weights (from were for lengths varying from 125-140cm, so to make for a fairer comparison of weight, I scaled them (g/cm, including grip/basket, although actual g/cm goes down as poles get longer). So after checking for your optimum pole length, the DyNA will probably be the lightest out of the poles on this list. Lighter than many $300+ xc poles! Those black diamond traverse adjustable poles will be more than twice as heavy. Generic alpine poles (Komperdell Carv Pro) are also  near the top of the list of the worst g/cm.

XC and ski-mo poles ranked in terms of g/cm (less is better), either based on measured or claimed  weights(at 125,130,135,140cm) or estimated  from the claimed g/cm of the pole and adding the basket and grip (usually 60-65g). Interesting how there is a slight jump between the  Komperdell nordic classic and the aluminum Dynafit SR Race in the middle of what is otherwise a smooth distribution.

But what poles give you the best bang for the buck? I then compared the online sale price (retail is for suckers) multiplied by the g/cm. 

XC and ski-mo poles ranked in terms of $*g/cm (lower is better). Many aluminum poles have good $*g/cm as Aluminum is light and cheap! This high end XC poles have high $*g/cm.
Here my $20 Komperdells lead the pack. The Dynafit PDG pole seems to offer competitive value and light weight. My SR Race poles give up ~90grams to Dynafit’s best offering. And if you are interested in buying new poles, note that skimo poles like the Movement X-race carbon, Komperdell Nepal 10, Dynafit PDG Expert, and Gabel Piera Menta carbon give you pretty good bang for the buck, along with being pretty light!

What is the relationship between pole price and unit weight? One would expect that as you spend more and more, you are saving less and less weight. This is an exponential relationship and it is plotted below.
But how does ski pole weight affect exertion and overall race times? What about breakage? I've only seen/heard of carbon poles breaking (PDG, RSR, DyNA, "CT1 are too fragile for skimo").

*Updated 2016 with Black Diamond's poles. Vapor 1 and Helio are extremely competitive weight-wise. Will also add Dynafit Speed Vario and C2 ultralight, 2 adjustable poles that weigh ~180grams! Dynafit PDG pole is now the Dynafit Speed pole

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