As a ski magazine editor, I’m fortunate enough to upgrade my quiver, boots, apparel and accessories almost annually. But one constant in my gear over the last several years has been these Black Diamond poles. In fact, beyond some foot beds, a few pairs of underwear and one particular flask, my poles might be the only piece of gear that’s carried over, year to year.
Black Diamond’s Razor Carbon poles offer no unneeded frills in a lighter and more durable-than-average package. This particular pair has withstood four years of abuse from across the Mountain West to Europe, Canada, and South America, and have easily logged a couple hundred resort and OB days in New England. I have, however, had to replace the lower shaft twice. On one particular sub-zero morning, the carbon lower snapped when I accidentally smacked it against a rock. Thankfully, a replacement shaft only costs $22.
That carbon lower shaft is matched with an aluminum upper, which makes the Razor Carbon more durable and less expensive than other full-composite options like BD’s $140 Pure Carbon model. But I wouldn’t choose to upgrade to something lighter, as these Razor Carbons have just enough mass to keep their swing weight from feeling too feathery. Plus, I’m not ready to part with these poles—they’re just starting to fade to a manly shade of pink.
+ Noticeably lighter than all-aluminum options, but not too dainty.
– The grip extensions slid off after less than one season.
= Light enough, simple and never problematic.
Swix Sonic R1
$249 | swixsport.com
From the grip down, the Sonic is stacked with nuanced features that turn a standard ski pole into an irreplaceable necessity. A notched horn on the grip allows you to unlock or lock touring bindings with ease without really adding any weight. Plus, the Sonic is 100-percent carbon fiber, which, Swix touts, makes the pole 40-percent lighter than any other modular pole on the market at just 207 grams. Coated nylon baskets for soft snow round out this easy-swinging carbon option.
Leki Tourstick Vario
$199 | leki.com
Splitboarders take note: Leki’s newest bc-oriented pole collapses to just 15 inches. It’s comprised of five sections: three full-carbon upper shafts and two aluminum lower shafts. All five pieces are connected with plastic-coated, Kevlar-reinforced tension cords that allow for easy assembly. And in order to protect the carbon shafts at their ends, Leki has wrapped the connecting spots with machined aluminum. Plus, the soft-to-the-touch EVA foam grip extends an extra six inches for more versatile hand placement while skinning.
K2 W’s Lockjaw Carbon/Alu
Carbon fiber isn’t just carbon fiber, and K2’s Triax Carbon Technology is a testament. To build this pole’s upper, K2 wound fibers at a 60-degree angle around the outside of the upper shaft to reinforce thinner uni-directional fibers. The result is a 14mm thick shaft that’s lighter than that of any other K2 poles. The aluminum lower shaft gives these poles a solid-feeling swing weight, and a bubble inclinometer below the handle is super handy for on-the-fly slope-angle measurement.
Black Diamond Carbon Compactor Ski Pole
$160 | blackdiamondequipment.com
Black Diamond’s Carbon Compactor is marketed as a general-use ski pole, but it’s best suited for splitboarding by virtue of its unique collapsing system. The Compactor breaks down into three carbon-fiber sections connected by rubbery “cones” a la modern tent poles. Even if you don’t board, this pair of carbons are ideal for packing down for travel—they fold to just 16 inches. And at a scant 1lb. 3oz. per pair, the Compactor is feathery whether in hand or in the pack.