Forget what you think you know about ski poles: that they're all the same (unless you pay a fortune for super-lightweight shock absorbers), or that if you get backcountry-oriented telescoping poles, they'll always end up about two feet long after several decent pole plants. Like everything else about winter sports, poles are suddenly highly technical and very specialized. And, unlike a lot of your ski equipment, poles are actually getting cheaper. Today's poles are lighter and slimmer but stronger, which translates into quicker pole plants with less arm and wrist fatigue. Even high-end carbon-graphite composites¿generally the lightest and strongest of all¿are coming down in price. Better-thought-out locking devices have improved the reliability of adjustable-length poles, and nifty innovations like interchangeable baskets and ergonomically designed grips are boosting versatility. And, finally...did we mention that poles are getting cheaper? Here are five specialty poles that represent what's out there.
Goode 8602 $60¿$80
WEIGHT: 16.3 ounces (per pair)
NUTSHELL: Not quite pencil thin (12.7-mm diameter), the 8602 offers lightweight graphite- composite construction at an affordable price.
FEEL: A lightweight touch with nice shock-absorbing power.
COOLEST FEATURE: A height-adjustment grip (on the $80 model) allows for fine-tuning pole length by as much as three inches.
COMMENTS: The high-end multi- density grip option has a six-degree corrective angle for easier, more efficient pole plants. It can be used with Goode's Interloc glove system, a grip-and-glove locking combo that reduces pole-strap hassles. Leather Interloc gloves are sold separately ($80-$120).
INFO: 800-722-7547; www.goode.com
DESIGNED FOR WOMEN
Smith Chamonix $55
WEIGHT: 16 ounces
NUTSHELL: An aluminum-alloy pole with a downsized grip to accommodate smaller hands.
FEEL: A snug, just-right fit for smaller hands that eliminates grip slippage.
COOLEST FEATURE: The pole's shaft is bent to allow the tip to hit the snow at an angle, generating more efficient pole plants.
COMMENTS: It's the first ski pole just for women, but that's not the whole story here. The Chamonix's tip sports small metal gripper teeth designed to eliminate lost baskets. The angled, ergonomically shaped grip reduces wrist action for quicker, more precise pole plants.
INFO: 800-635-4401; www.smithsport.com
WEIGHT: 19.7 ounces
NUTSHELL: A 7000-series aluminum, three-part telescoping pole that extends from 28 inches (small enough to fit in a pack) to 58 inches (long enough for snow- shoeing).
FEEL: Easily adjustable¿even with gloves on¿yet very solid and comfortable.
COOLEST FEATURE: A shock-absorbing system in the tip that's built to work even in extreme temperatures.
COMMENTS: The Expedition's nonslip locking system was tested in Europe for the last two seasons; it uses an expanding wedge inside the shaft to increase tension as you turn the pole. The result is a tight, reliable hold for trekking in deep and tricky snow conditions. Comes with three interchangeable baskets, for racing, freeskiing, and powder.
INFO: 208-822-1000; www.scottusa.com
Leki Lawison Extreme$110
WEIGHT: 21 ounces
NUTSHELL: A versatile two-section aluminum pole; as a pair converts into a nine-foot avalanche probe.
FEEL: Smooth-swinging and light-feeling, especially for an aluminum pole.
COOLEST FEATURE: The pole's long, flexible tip will bend 30 degrees before breaking and can be replaced ($14); the shaft is unlikely to break, even if caught hard in an ice crack.
COMMENTS: For people who venture from groomed hardpack to unpredictable backcountry conditions¿via skins, snowshoes, or chairlifts¿the Lawison Exttreme extends from 38 to 59 inches. Its expanding locking system uses a simple twist lock that's quick and easy to adjust. Comes with two baskets, one for powder and one for on-piste skiing.
INFO: 800-255-9982; www.leki.com
LIGHT AND FAST
Kerma Banshee Pro$129
WEIGHT: Five ounces
NUTSHELL: May cost a bit more, but this is the latest in superlight composite-pole technology.
FEEL: A notably light swing weight, but super stiff.
COOLEST FEATURE: The see-through shaft shows off the pole's high-tech innards.
COMMENTS: Graphite and Kevlar components are wound together at very high speeds, then lightweight carbon tape is wrapped around them for extra strength and stiffness. The quick-release interchangeable-basket system comes with racing and powder baskets.
INFO: 802-655-2400; www.dynastar.com