Ski poles occupy a similar niche to stems on bicycles; being a necessary, but performance-neutral piece of gear. Switching to a different set of poles isn’t in most cases going to improve your turns, or uphill times, or make you able to stomp big cliffs. Preference largely comes down to personal feel, aesthetic appeal, and budget.
Just as in stems, there is an enormous range in price of ski poles, from free to several hundred dollars. We all know the dude who rips on a pair of mismatched poles from the rental dumpster, but if your sense of symmetry and aesthetics directs you to purchase a new set, there is an array of choice for every taste, and budget.
Bamboo has enjoyed a resurgence as the hip au naturel option for ski poles. Being a beard-growing, granola-munching, part-time free-heeler, there was little I could do to resist the allure of cellulose sticks for ski touring. Panda Poles appealed to me for the light-hearted vibe, and commitment to sustainability. Sure, a few dudes making ski poles out of plant material isn’t going to solve global issues, but it’s a step in the right direction, and the cumulative effect of raising consciousness about our decisions as consumers may well be more important than the carbon offset.
Bamboo poles offer a stellar strength-to-weight ratio that makes them impressive contenders against aluminum, and carbon options. Claims of the strength of bamboo relative to other materials vary, but the Samurai sword fight, and doing pull-ups, and slacklining on a bamboo pole offer very convincing visual testaments to the strength of bamboo.
One of the most unique aspects of Panda Poles is the array of customization they offer. Options include bamboo selections between “Ra” (“Burly and Raw) and “Toasty” (Light Weight and Refined), and a variety of grip, strap, and basket options. If you are bored with black as the default color for ski poles, you will be stoked on the variety of color combinations possible on the Panda Poles website.
The Zero Drag cone-style baskets were particularly appealing to me, given my propensity for bushwhacking. The open snowflake pattern of the baskets on the poles I was using previously were highly prone to snagging on brush, and sinking while skinning uphill in deep conditions. The cone shaped Zero drag baskets promise to be relatively snag-free, and more stable.
Adjustable length poles seemed like a brilliant idea when I first started ski touring. I had been an early adopter of dropper posts on my mountain bike, and adjustable poles seemed like a logical extension of the same concept.
By my second season I noticed two things: 1.) I was rarely adjusting the length of my ski poles, and 2.) They were separating nearly every time I went through trees. The basket would catch, the pole would separate, and I would be side-stepping up hill, muttering words of displeasure as I re-assembled the pole before I could get back to skiing; now in a much more flustered and distrusting mindset. The convenience and enhanced fun factor of dropper posts did not translate so well into the world of adjustable ski poles.
I found myself keeping my ski poles at a fixed length, and moving my hand position up or down the grip to compensate for side slopes as necessary. The relatively short pistol-style grip of this first pair did not lend themselves so readily to this strategy, so i wrapped a layer of duct tape below the grip as an alternate hand position. With this experience in mind, I chose the longest grip option Panda Poles offers, the 11” Katana. The one drawback to the natural look of bamboo is that it doesn’t go so well with the industrial look of duct tape. I may have to find a new spot for my emergency stash.
Using the handy (and slightly hilarious) sizing reference chart, I settled on “Hidden Panda,” as the most neutral stance. Upon receiving the poles, and giving them the carpet test, I think I may have preferred sizing up to “Dancing Crane” for a more elevated uphilling grip.
Though it’s not directly related to on-snow peformance, I feel obligated to point out that the shipping and tracking information supplied by Panda Poles was the most comprehensive I have ever experienced with online ordering. Every step was well-documented, leaving no doubt as to the status of my order, from creation to transit.
Since I couldn’t afford a plane ticket to Argentina, buying these poles was a much more affordable way to build my late summer stoke. I’m really looking forward to getting these out for some on-the-snow testing in a few months to see if the Zero Drag Basket, and extra-long grips are as handy as I think they will be.
More WildSnow bamboo content. It’s used in everything from skis to ski racks…
Guest blogger Aaron Mattix grew up in Kansas and wrote a report on snowboarding in seventh grade. His first time to attempt snowboarding was in 2012, and soon switched over to skis for backcountry exploration near his home in Rifle, CO. His skill level is “occasionally makes complete runs without falling.” In the summer, he owns and operates Gumption Trail Works, building mountain bike singletrack and the occasional sweet jump.