In the last few years the market has been flooded with adjustable ski touring poles. Choosing one out of the ensuing stick pile is difficult. Various pole options can be quite similar, so it’s the small details that differentiate.
There’s a debate within the Dawson clan on the utility of adjustable ski poles. Lou Sr. uses lightweight fixed-length poles for all his touring, and sees adjustable poles an an unnecessary and expensive gimmick, created so that backcountry ski converts will be able to justify spending money on fancy new poles rather than using their perfectly functional alpine poles. I, on the other hand, use adjustable poles for most of my touring. Adjustable poles have a few advantages and features I enjoy, and make it worth it for the serious ski tourer. But, we’d both agree that purchasing new poles is near the bottom of the list when building a kit for a backcountry skier. The truth is, almost any pole that’s the right length will work fine. Any day, I’d take a cheap fixed pole over a cheap adjustable pole that could easily fail.
Last year G3 came out with a full line of both aluminum and carbon ski poles, including adjustable and fixed-length. The Via Carbon poles are fully carbon fiber (the upper and lower shaft). The rods have a wide diameter, which increases strength, but also makes them more bulky. The adjustment is done via G3’s version of the popular cam-lock system, which incorporates a cast aluminum lever.
Via Carbon come with a 3-sided powder basket (as well as the option for a smaller basket). The grip is dual-density, like most ski pole grips, and incorporates a removable strap. The strap attaches with a buckle that is basically a side-release buckle that snaps into the top of the grip. The grip also has a aggressive “hook” on the front, for manipulating ski bindings. Another little feature is the molded plastic bump a few inches down the shaft for grabbing the pole on sidehills.
The full-carbon construction makes the poles fairly light. They weigh in at 282 grams (10 oz) for one pole. I have the large size, which adjusts out to 145 cm.
I’ve been using the poles for a little over a year now. I like adjustable poles and use them the majority of the time. For traveling, adjustability is great, as it opens up a bit of space in the ski bag. On skin tracks that are anything more than a short lap, I lengthen the poles to about 125 cm, and shorten them down to about 115 for the descent. On long, flat approaches or low-angled skating, I lengthen the poles to the maximum. Another utility of adjustable poles is for hiking down steep hills carrying skis. I set the poles to a nice long length, and let them take a bit of pressure off my knees. During an average day of skiing, I adjust my poles at least once, perhaps a few times.
In my opinion the only adjustable poles worth anything use some version of a cam to set the adjustment, similar to the flicklock invented years ago by Black Diamond. I’ve tried a variety of other systems over the years and have always found them to unexpectedly collapse, or ice up and fail to adjust. Cam-locks rarely have these problems (if properly adjusted and tightened). G3’s version of the cam system works nicely.
The aluminum levers on my poles have gotten scratched, but otherwise, they, as well as the plastic components, show no sign of wear. They’ve never iced up or collapsed for me. There is an adjustment screw, but I’ve never had to use it. Overall, a tried and true, reliable system.
The powder basket is 3 sided, with one side slightly smaller, for use on steep, hard snow. The 3 “points” are useful for flipping heel lifts and I can even use them to grab the toe levers on Dynafits (although, ironically, I can’t do this with G3’s Ion Binding, due to the lack of a little bump at the end of the toe lever).
The powder baskets started out stiffly attached to the poles, but over time they spin. This makes flipping heel levers more difficult, and diminishes the benefit of the short side of the basket for steep skiing. I may try to fix the basket in place with a dab of glue, but I haven’t had much luck with that in the past. There is a lot of leverage on the shaft, and I don’t want to permanently attach the basket.
The grip is comfy. The slight hook on the front works super well for pulling up tech binding toe levers, and flipping heel risers. The simple strap attachment is one of the better ones I’ve seen. It’s very easy to take off, but I’ve never had it come off inadvertently. Unfortunately the strap itself isn’t ideal. It is stiff and bulky, and uses a big piece of Velcro for adjustment. The Velcro tends to come undone and instead attaches itself to the Velcro cuff on my jacket. The Velcro also doesn’t allow the strap to be adjusted small enough for me to comfortably use with bare hands, necessary for spring touring. A simple ladderlock buckle would have worked much better. In my opinion, minimalism is key when it comes to ski pole straps. Bulkier, fancier ski straps are rarely more comfortable. A simple, contoured piece of webbing with a single buckle adjustment is the way to go. But, the minute details of the strap aren’t a deal breaker, and the Via strap has been adequate so far.
The other aspects of the pole are well thought out. The molded plastic “second grip” on the upper shaft is minimal, with just enough material to keep your hand from sliding down the pole on sidehills. The poles also seem durable. I’ve fallen on them a few times, and they haven’t broken or cracked. The pole tip hasn’t shown excessive wear. The top of the handle is soft and rubbery — it is chipped and scratched from me hitting various things, but that is only cosmetic.
There’re lots of pole options out there; shopping for a pair can be like battling through a forest of South American bamboo. G3’s Via Carbon poles are a solid choice. They’ve got good features, high-quality materials, and have held up well after hard use.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.