When asked what sport you’re most likely to associate with bamboo, you probably think of fly fishing with a bamboo rod, or perhaps javelin throwing with a bamboo spear. In general, you’re more likely to imagine a warm, jungle-like setting. The biggest bamboos more commonly grow in the tropical regions like India, Indonesia and Southeast Asia. You’re less likely to think of winter sports like downhill skiing. But bamboo ski poles are actually an integral component of this nordic sport.
Bamboo ski poles are nothing new; they’ve been around for well over a century. Since the 1800s, winter sports enthusiasts have recognized the advantages of bamboo. Even as new materials and technologies have come on the scene, bamboo continues to excel as a lightweight, durable, and inexpensive product. Dendrocalamus strictus from India and Pseudosasa amabilis are considered the best species of bamboo for ski poles, used by sporting goods specialists around the world.
Why bamboo ski poles
Riding downhill or gliding cross country, skiing is immeasurably more enjoyable when you have a good pair of poles to help you stay up and keep balance. According to modern archeology and ancient cave paintings, humans have been practicing this winter activity for at least 10,000 years. But the sport as we know it only dates back a few centuries.
Originally, cave men would use a single stick or a spear to keep themselves propped up. In China, these may have very likely been bamboo sticks. In Siberia and Scandinavia, however, they would have used some other type of wood.
We find the earliest depiction of a skier using two poles in the mid-1700s. These winter pioneers, treading across the frozen terrain of Scandinavia, had no access to bamboo. But they had no shortage of hardwood from which to shape their poles. Lightweight pine would have been the wood of choice in the West. But in the East, they certainly would have relied on bamboo.
Modern ski poles
In the 20th century, most ski pole production came to be done with steel and aluminum. The most modern poles are made from carbon fiber.
As in every other industry, manmade innovations and technological advances have introduced new materials. But there’s always a sense of longing for the old ways. Maybe it’s vinyl records, or leather football helmets. And this yearning is not merely a sense of nostalgia. In many cases, there’s something genuinely superior about the old traditions. (Ok, maybe not in the case of soft leather headgear for football.)
For the same reasons that bamboo is gaining so much popularity across various fields of building and construction, it also makes sense for simple things like ski poles.
Advantages of bamboo for ski poles
- Strong: Bamboo has an incredible strength-to-weight ratio, comparable to steel. Even if the poles crack, the split runs along the vertical grain, so they almost never break off completely.
- Lightweight: The hollow culms of bamboo grass won’t weigh you down when you’re racing across the ice.
- Flexible: Bamboo poles naturally bend in the breeze. They have some inherent give that allows them to keep their strength even as they bend like natural shock absorbers. Unlike aluminum, they won’t bend and lose their shape.
- Inexpensive: A regenerative grass, bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant on earth. And you can grow it on every habitable continent, so it’s not even necessary to import it from Asia as in centuries past.
- All Natural: Bamboo poles grow straight out of the ground, unlike steel and carbon which have a very intensive manufacturing process. And when they wear out, the bamboo poles are easily biodegradable.
Makers of bamboo ski poles
For their environmental and performance benefits, bamboo poles are quickly coming back into style. More and more sporting goods manufacturers around the world are offering high-end, low-impact, custom-made poles. Here are just a couple of them. (FYI: We have no affiliations with the following companies.)
“No snow. No ski.” asserts the Soul Poles website. The company, based in Utah, makes ski poles out of bamboo and knows all to well the impact that global warming is having on the levels of alpine snow. Acknowledging the fact that climate change directly influences the success of their business, Soul Poles has committed itself to being as environmentally responsible as possible. Founded by former members of the U.S. Ski Team racers, the equipment is fashioned by hand in the United States, helping to create local jobs and and curb emissions that contribute to the rise of greenhouse gasses.
Poles are available in models suited for both skiing and trekking. Fabricated using bamboo, recycled plastics, and recycled aluminum they are available in a natural finish or customized colors that use a low VOC water-based paint and clear coat. Sturdy and attractive, the body of the pole is 100% biodegradable. Ranging from $110-350, Soul Poles are a fantastic alternative to non-recyclable synthetic materials.
In an effort to help the ski and snowboard industry become a little more green, Soul Poles has partnered with Recycle Utah to educate consumers on how to safely dispose of their unwanted gear. The company is also a member of 1% for the Planet, a non-profit that contributes a portion of total revenue to environmental organizations. Soul Poles also partners with World Cup Dreams, a group that assists winter sports athletes to achieve their goals as professional competitors, and Protect Our Winters which focuses on uniting and engaging the global snow sports community.
Rimfors custom bamboo poles
Rimfors of Sweden has be making bamboo ski poles since 1934. Back then, almost all the poles on the market were bamboo, but Olle Rimfors added a few patented features to give his brand the leading edge.
Olle’s great-grandson, Fabian, maintains the family tradition today, as well as the commitment to excellence. In the 21st century, making the best poles isn’t enough. Like others, Fabian has noticed the winters getting shorter and warmer. That’s why he’s committed to maintaining the smallest carbon footprint and lowest environmental impact.
He believes in transparency and the circular economy. That’s why Rimfors poles use only the best bamboo in combination with recycled polypropylene and reclaimed aluminum. Their website goes into great detail about the company’s choice of reusable and recyclable materials and their low-impact packaging and shipping practices.
Selecting bamboo for ski poles
With more than 1,000 species of bamboo to choose from, it’s important to find the right variety for the job. For the last century or so, Tonkin Bamboo (Pseudosasa amabilis) has been the bamboo of choice for the ski pole industry. Long used for the traditional bamboo fly rods, this species is exceptionally rigid and flexible at the same time. The canes are also naturally smooth with unobtrusive nodal joints.
More recently, Dendrocalamus strictus, better known as Calcutta Bamboo or Male Bamboo, has become a popular variety for ski poles. This giant timber variety is native to Northeast India and Southeast Asia, and is revered for its massive poles with very thick culm walls.
Grown under the right conditions, the canes can be solid or nearly solid, unlike Tonkin and most other bamboo species with their hollow culms. Calcutta bamboo can also be cultivated to produce thinner canes, ideal for ski poles, rather than their typically giant canes that are more suitable for construction.
If you’re interested in ordering this variety of bamboo in large quantities, you can contact us directly.
All downhill from here
Search high and low and you’ll find there’s nothing that bamboo cannot do. Whether you’re crafting ski sticks, fishing poles, or electric vehicle refueling stations, there’s always an opportunity for bamboo. To learn more about the myriad uses and benefits of this miraculous grass, check out some of these related articles.