Panda Ski Poles — Putting the Fun in Functionality


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | June 13, 2018      

Aaron Mattix

One of the ribs came up missing after a few sessions of gear loading & unloading into vehicles. Presumably a ski edge is to blame, though I had no further incidents of missing ribs. I like to think of the missing one as a finger locating divot.

One of the ribs came up missing after a few sessions of gear loading & unloading into vehicles. Presumably a ski edge is to blame, though I had no further incidents of missing ribs. I like to think of the missing one as a finger locating divot.

I bought Panda Poles because they looked fun, and fun is the reason why I ski. My expectations for them were relatively low; I just wanted a pair of poles that wouldn’t separate when navigating the dense brush that plagues low-elevation skiing just about anywhere but Iceland. While this now past Colorado 2017/2018 ski season was sub-par, my signature set of bamboo Panda Poles put an extra bit of smile on my face every time I went out. My expectations were fairly neutral (as long as they didn’t auto-separate, I would have been happy), yet I found myself very impressed with the functionality of these sticks I bought solely on fun factor.

Everyone notices the green, BMX-inspiried 11 inch Katana grips. The first words out of my snowboarding buddy’s mouth were, “If had to have ski poles, those would be the ski poles I would have.” The somewhat comical-looking combo of the extra-long grips, and bulky Fatty Kush straps provide an assortment of hand position options on deep and / or sidehilling skin tracks that negates the need for adjustable length poles.

The heavy loop of fabric on the Fatty Kush Strap makes for a convenient mid-grip thumb rest on the 11" Katana grip

The heavy loop of fabric on the Fatty Kush Strap makes for a convenient mid-grip thumb rest on the 11″ Katana grip

On my first over-zealous outing of the year, punching through a minimal snow layer to the ground below, punting myself over fallen logs not yet covered with snow, I was concerned I had purchased a length too short for effective ski touring. Once the snow cover accumulated to the “barely adequate” level that was to define our truncated winter season, I found the sizing guide I had followed on the Panda Poles website was spot-on for my needs. “Hidden Panda,” a balance between “mobility,” and “agility,” for a “square, balanced stance,” gave me an adequate length for propelling myself uphill, and while remaining nimble on the turns down.

The serrated, conical baskets offered a surprising advantage in stability and grip on the ascent compared to the flat, snowflake shaped basket of my previous poles. The flat baskets want to push the pole to an angle perpendicular to the snowpack, while the jagged edges of the Zero Drag Powder Basket bite in with the authority of a sharp hole saw into soft pine. On slopes steep enough to warrant switching to the tallest position on my heel risers, the poles would stand on their own if given a firm jab into the snow.

*Steeper than it looks* The serrated edges of the conical basket offer impressive bite on packed snow

*Steeper than it looks* The serrated edges of the conical basket offer impressive bite on packed snow.

Bushwhackability was the main advantage I was hoping to gain with the Zero Drag baskets, and the Panda Poles design performed flawlessly in this regard. This past winter, I got in several days of exploring an abandoned ski resort. The mellow pillow lines over basalt rock flows were sublime, a backcountry skier’s dream of open, untracked runs. The second-growth aspen was much more discouraging. In the clarity of hindsight, I wish development hadn’t got as far as it did. Ski runs bulldozed out of aspen groves that would have made for great tree skiing were now nearly impenetrable thickets of second-growth shoots. Eventually, my wanderings brought me to a point where I had to “ski” through several hundred meters of this mess. It’s the sort of skiing that requires one to channel their inner bull elk spirit, point for the least dense section, lower your helmet as a battering ram and charge through to the next opening where you pick your line, and do it all over again. If ever there is a time that ski baskets are likely to hang up, it is during this sort of “skiing.” The cone shape of the Zero Drag basket glided through the thickest of thickets without the slightest snag or awkward tug.

Bushwhack testing area for the Zero Drag baskets

Bushwhack testing area for the Zero Drag baskets.

The drawback to the conical shape is the propensity to pack up with snow at near-freezing conditions in the same manner as a snow-cone, minus the syrupy flavoring. Perhaps consider taking along a small vial of one’s favorite liqueur for a mid-tour refreshment?

The drawback to the conical shape is the propensity to pack up with snow at near-freezing conditions in the same manner as a snow-cone, minus the syrupy flavoring. Perhaps consider taking along a small vial of one’s favorite liqueur for a mid-tour refreshment?

Purchased on a mid-summer whim, my customized Panda Poles helped keep a smile on my face through a low tide winter with their balance of fun and functionality. The grips and straps provided a variety of hand placement options, while the cone-shaped baskets provided stability on on steep slopes, and impeccable bushwhacking. The degree of customization offered by the Panda Poles website is all but irresistible to those such as myself who enjoy sporting the most unique gear on the mountain, with the pragmatism of being able to order a very specific set of, literally, sticks.

The lack of technical features, and propensity for snow-packing will probably not appeal to the mountaineering/expedition crowd, but for the skier more focused on grins rather than grams, Panda Poles are a most excellent choice.



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Comments

8 Responses to “Panda Ski Poles — Putting the Fun in Functionality”

  1. XXX_er June 13th, 2018 9:14 am

    Talk about turning up the fun factor the local brewery/ ski store has panda pole grips on each of their beer taps !

  2. VtVolk June 13th, 2018 1:50 pm

    Regarding your “bushwacking testing” photo, we call that “wide open glades” in Vermont!

  3. TanSnowMan June 13th, 2018 2:17 pm

    Dude! Yes! This is awesome. What I call a wholesome, honest review. Thanks so much. We had no idea you were putting this together. Tribe UP!

  4. Lou Dawson 2 June 14th, 2018 11:01 am

    Indeed, we’re delighted to have Aaron doing some writing for us! We intend to keep it coming! Lou

  5. Jeremy Moore June 14th, 2018 8:05 pm

    I can’t imagine being so bored with skiing that your poles make you happy. Maybe when you’re the only person on the mountain with them. The 3 resorts I regularly ski at in Utah are chock full of these things.

  6. Aaron Mattix June 14th, 2018 8:05 pm

    Proud to be writing for Wild Snow!

    I’ve been very happy with my Panda Poles overall – the snow packing is minor compared to how much I’ve enjoyed taking these Poles out with me.

  7. Aaron Mattix June 15th, 2018 8:30 am

    Jeremy – an alternate take is that a person enjoys skiing enough that ski poles make them happy..

  8. Rudi June 15th, 2018 11:06 am

    I think the grip that a pole basket provides into the snow when booting is actually quite important. I have had several deflections before and it does put you off balance at risk for a fall. Id like to see some innovation in this area as pulling out the axe definitely puts one in a slower less comfortable position so I find myself resisting it as much as possible.





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