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Telescopic Poles

Telescopic Poles

For backcountry skiing telescopic poles are the best choice. Available in two or three sections these poles let you find the optimum length when climbing, traversing and skiing back down and are usually designed with features to increase comfort and practicality.
Pole Length
When climbing you need longer poles than the length you'd use for skiing downhill. Longer poles let you push with each stride, and use the upper body when climbing, not just the legs.
Longer poles also give more stability on steep terrain. When traversing you can adjust the uphill and downhill poles for more comfort. Many telescopic poles have a foam covered or plastic grippy top section under the grip, for use when traversing.
Pole Sections - 2 or 3?
Three section poles can be more practical if you'll be travelling by public transport since they pack down shorter (but you probably have stashed them in your ski bag, so this does not apply), but in general we prefer two section poles. These are lighter, a little stronger, have fewer parts to go wrong and still offer plenty of adjustment.
Pole Materials
Most telescopic poles are made of aluminium with an increasing number using carbon fibre for reduced weight. Carbon fibre poles are much lighter, are stiff but can be more fragile since a glancing cut from a ski edge can easily snap them. Some brands therefore use carbon fibre for the upper section and aluminium lower section (or carbon fibre lower section with an aluminium "guard" to prevent cuts.
Adjustment Mechanisms
Most poles now use an external lever that tightens a camming mechanism when the lever is pressed around the pole. Originally developed by Black Diamond and Gipron, these "Flicklock" poles give reliable closure. Some poles still use the older internal expanding cone system which also works well. Some brands have made collapsable Z-poles but we do not recommend these for backcountry skiing.
Grips
Good telescopic poles usually have hard foam or cork grips that help remove sweat and are comfortable even after many hours climbing. Straps are usually wide and adjustable for size, to cope with bare hands, thin liner gloves and days when you'll need thick mittens.
Tips
Most touring poles come with a sturdy steel or (better) carbide tip that grips well on snow, ice and rock. Some poles use a directional carbide tip that points backwards. These give the best grip of all but you may need to ensure that the lower section is orientated correctly for it to work as designed.
Baskets
Touring poles have to cope with a wide variety of snow conditions. One day it's boiler plate ice, the next day powder. Touring poles certainly require larger baskets than resort poles, but just how large does depend upon your local snow conditions. One thing to consider is that large baskets can make getting the tips to bite more tricky on steep slopes (uphill and downhill). One solution to this are assyemtric baskets that have a shorter and longer side to hopefully offer both grip and flat as needed. Again you may need to check the alignment of the baskets to get best performance.
Ice Axe Attachments
Grivel and Black Diamond produce poles with ice axe picks for use when skiing steep and icy slopes. 
The Grivel Condor is a two part pole with a ice pick built into the handle. When not needed the pick is hidden in a recess.
Black Diamond have updated the Whippet system for this winter and the pick can now be removed when not needed. Both these systems give added security on steep slopes but make sure that you practice using these to be fully familiar with them.

 

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