The only correct way to measure XC ski pole lengths

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The only correct way to measure XC ski pole lengths

Post by MCWyeth » Fri May 11, 2018 11:30 pm

Due to the new restrictions on classic pole lengths which is set at 83% of skier height, I became interested in exactly how this is measured.

I was curious about this due to the fact that there are many many posts in this forum and others recommending a decent ski pole length. Obviously there are many thoughts on this, and different things work for different people. Almost everyone recommends some percentage of the skiers height. This requires of course correctly measuring the skiers height, and also correctly measuring the pole in a fashion to compare with the skiers height. But, I could find almost nowhere on the forum, anyone mentioning how they were coming up with both measurements exactly to then calculate the percentage.

It's of course very hard for anyone to say whether 83% (or any other percentage) is too short, too long (or a decent recommendation), if no one has defined what they are measuring.

The FIS regulations are the only ones that can get you actually disqualified. And one would hope the regulations were written by, or at least collaborated on, by lots of coaches and officials who had spent a lot of time rotating through different pole lengths for their skiers. So, I thought that would be a good place to start.

After digging through the FIS docs, it's clear that the only regulated proper way to measure this is wearing your ski boots, and resting the actual metal tip of the ski pole on the same surface you are standing on, in your boots (the FIS docs say: “The body height is measured with ski boots on from a flat surface, to the top of the uncovered head.”) I have no actual experience if this is how it's done at FIS races, but that's what is quoted in the documentation.

So, the skiers height is measured with their ski boots on, to the top of their head. And the pole is measured from the pointy apex of the metal tip all the way up “to the highest attachment of the strap.” Here is the actual graphic file extracted directly from the FIS spec document itself:
page2image17008.png (28.73 KiB) Viewed 1431 times
So I am wondering, does everyone on this forum agree this is what we are all measuring, when we make pole length recommendations with specific percentage numbers? Or is it just way more ad-hoc depending on who we talk to (and how they decide to measure), sort of like when we hear the commonly repeated recommendations for armpit/shoulder/chin/lips length approximations?
Last edited by MCWyeth on Sat May 12, 2018 4:03 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: The only correct way to measure XC ski pole lengths

Post by MCWyeth » Fri May 11, 2018 11:32 pm

Observations after running these numbers for myself:
I don't want to state any thoughts on the 83% number, because I'm not an expert. But it seems that if you actually measure the correct FIS way, 83% is much closer to the traditional skate length recommendation, with the pole ending up approximately at your chin, once you are actually in the snow.

Go ahead and try it for yourself. Put your boots on, then measure yourself. Then also ignore the printed label (and the basket) on your pole and measure it correctly, too.

I think most will be surprised. And I would recommend everyone does the correct FIS measurements for themselves and their gear, so that we all know what one another are referencing.

83% measured the FIS regulation way is not a short pole. And a recommendation of 90% (measured the correct FIS way), well… I would guess most people would find that way, way too long. This is at least what I can tell from attempting to interpret the many threads on the forum about pole length. And I say this knowing fully well that I probably poorly pieced together what I thought people were previously talking about, from disjointed references in the forums bouncing between body height, percentages, and pole lengths.

And I guess that is possibly one part of the ongoing problems with pole length recommendations, right?
Last edited by MCWyeth on Sat May 12, 2018 4:07 am, edited 9 times in total.

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Re: The only correct way to measure XC ski pole lengths

Post by MCWyeth » Fri May 11, 2018 11:51 pm

My other observation, based on measuring my poles:
The printed lengths on every single one of my Swix poles are almost exactly 5 cm longer than what a correct regulation FIS measurement would give you. This included the highest end Triac poles, and the lowest end aluminum poles. Therefore, almost any pole which is labeled 162.5cm by Swix would actually be measured by the FIS regulation to be only 157.5cm.

Which is of course a noticeable difference. That is a much "shorter" pole (per the FIS) than the Swix label would lead you to believe. Potentially Swix and other pole manufacturers might update their labels to be in compliance with correct FIS measurements. But then obviously many would feel, once they received any new poles they ordered online, that those new poles felt much too long in hand (compared to previous non-FIS measured poles from the same company).

So if you are going to do this, make sure you actually measure your pole. Do not take the printed length to be in any way correct.

Does anyone else have any insight into how far off the labeled measurements of other pole manufacturers are? And by how much, how consistently, and in what direction (labeled too short, or labeled too long)?

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Re: The only correct way to measure XC ski pole lengths

Post by Neuro » Sat May 12, 2018 5:43 am

I think the idea behind measuring with boots is simply because it's more practical to do with athletes before race start.

I also believe measuring from the strap is new as given lengths before would be the whole pole from tip to top judging from my poles at least (Swix).

So the traditional way was simply actual skier height and pole length. Simple for all to understand.

There's a thread here somewhere where I believe it's mentioned that shoulder height is the best reference point to find a fitting pole as that's where the action starts and people's necks and heads might vary.

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Re: The only correct way to measure XC ski pole lengths

Post by JeffOYB » Sun Oct 07, 2018 11:55 am

My impression is that 83% is by no means a recommended length. It's just the max FIS. It might be that only WC skiers or flatland canoeist skiers would enjoy such a length. It seems they're mostly trying to keep actual skate poles out of classic events. But these events will still be doublepole centric unless the course planners really emphasize the hills, which per FIS they kind of can't do. A WC course will be really hilly but they can't overdo the uphills, right? I wonder if our US citizen races aim for a balance of ups, downs, flats or if we typically design courses around other limitations: "It's all we got!" I would like to see all classic courses for all levels of skiers be designed to keep doublepoling to a minimum -- maybe 25%.
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Re: The only correct way to measure XC ski pole lengths

Post by trotro » Fri Feb 01, 2019 9:45 am

There is something to be said for checking on snow as you have the height of the boot + ski + binding + plus any plates the ski maker has stuck on, that can add quite a few cms.

I'm 178 and took a pair of 155cm poles but at the club training the other day the instructor asked if they were "classic" ski poles :-) (ha ha). He suggested I try 160 even 165cm poles.

It is true my 155cm poles were a bit short in the snow even if they seemed ok in the shop.

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Re: The only correct way to measure XC ski pole lengths

Post by Raubie » Tue Mar 05, 2019 8:06 pm

For me, 0.83 x my height comes up 2.5cm short. My traps ache at the thought-it'd really throw my form off.

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