(This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry.)
I love skiing pow as much as the next ski goof, but sometimes it’s nice to go as fast as you can uphill, carry around heavy things, or take skis to silly far away places. Fast, light, and versatile ski mountaineering gear helps in such pursuits. With that in mind, Black Diamond has some very interesting ski mountaineering gear coming our way.
Disclaimer: This is a first look. I have only had a chance to spend a couple of days on the Helio 76. I skied the 171 length mounted with Vipec Evos (understandably heavier than most will have set up on this ski) in La Sportiva Spitfire 2.0 boots. I skied it both on-piste and in the backcountry, but given how few runs I have had on the ski, these are only initial impressions.
Black Diamond has been making the Helio ski in 88, 95, 105, and 116 underfoot sizes for two seasons. I am a big fan. They are fast on the up and stable on the down. The Helio 105 has been my go to touring ski of late, and the Helio 88 is my go to spring ski. Both skis rock.
Along with the other Helio sizes, BD has made a ski for most skiers, however the skinny ski has made a comeback, and 88 is just not that small. The BD website says that the 88 is made for “ski mountaineering races, high-altitude objectives, and long-distance tours.” I have put it to use in Alaska and Colorado for expeditions, hut trips, and 14ners a plenty — but skimo races? NO WAY.
Skimo skis are generally 65mm underfoot and only 161cm in length. This size is really an uphill oriented tool (though world class racers do attain high velocities on the down), but it is gaining in popularity for fitness uphilling at ski resorts. Some strong skiers are taking 65s out into the mountains and doing impressive things with them, but generally speaking it is a limiting size. That said, 88 is also a big ski to an increasing number of people who like skinning in bounds, use skis to go real far, carry heavy packs, ski couloirs, or even like to rip corn in the spring. Enter the Helio 76!
2018 Black Diamond Helio 76
Available fall 2018
As a big fan of the Helio construction, 76 is the size I have been waiting for. A few other brands have been doing well with similar skimo inspired skis, and the Helio 76 now offers a BD made option.
The Helio 76 sports early rise in the tip and the Helio tail design, prepreg carbon layup, and an ultralight wood core (balsa reinforced with flax). BD has added rubber to their sidewall and layup to help damp the chatter. The Helio is built with 5mm ABS sidewalls – pretty rad for such a small ski. For comparison, the lighter weight Voile Objective is a cap construction ski, and the Dynafit Speedfit sports a ‘micro-sidewall’ (I guess it’s like a sidewall but smaller?). This all adds up to the Helio 76 being a tad heavier than some competitors at the size, but built like a bigger ski, which really helps them with the down.
Five pounds (227 gr) a pair is still darn dainty and easily qualifies as a “one kilo” ski. Other skis in the same category have often felt too soft or too unruly, but the Helio turn is snappy when you want it and stiff when you need it. Be warned: the 76 still feels a bit like you have Twizzlers on your feet. However, these Twizzlers hold an edge pretty darn well. I think BD really hit the sweet spot with this ski design: perhaps slightly heavier than other stupid-light skis, but in exchange for solid downhill performance.
I really like skimo style tip-fix attachments on my skins, and think they are downright necessary in some ski mountaineering contexts (and obviously have a huge race application). I went so far as to file a notch into my Helio 88s. BD finally hopped on board and put in the notch so I don’t have to hardware hack (sorry Lou).
I think at 161 and 171 this ski will be a super good fit for a lot of resort skinners, serious racers looking for a non-race ski, casual racers, and some ski mountaineers. I also think that BD may have missed an opportunity by only offering two sizes. A 176cm (or there about) would be a better length for spring corn, and undoubtedly there are many backcountry enthusiasts who just won’t hop on anything so short. Maybe a longer size will show up down the road?
Some other uphill and ski mountaineering goodies from BD are on the way this year as well. BD will begin distributing ATK bindings in North America. These are all ultralight tech bindings out of Italy, boasting clever engineering that does things such as improving the performance of U-pins, or significantly reducing weight. The following ATK bindings will be rebranded as BD Helio bindings as part of their new distribution:
The numbers above each correspond to the binding weight in grams. The Helio bindings will replace ATK branding in North America and are going to match the color scheme of the Helio skis according to weight — the lightest being grey to match the 76 and the heaviest being blue to match the 105. This will solidify their presence in the Lycra clad cohort of uphillers and weight conscious touring community among whom ATK already has a solid skimo reputation.
BD is hopping on the lightweight train and the tracks spell “Helio.” The Helio 110 on the Helio 76 will be a true ultralight BD set-up.
The Helio 76 was smooth on the groomers, decent in a bit or pow, and I managed not to fall over in variable chunder snow — a win on such light boards. Mind you, I own more than one pair of Spandex and have been accused from time to time of being a ‘speed-weenie,’ but my first impression is that the Helio 76 is a super cool ski. I like it a lot.
Dr. Alex Lee lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Alex is a professor at Alaska Pacific University, teaching philosophy and environmental studies. He also works as a sometimes guide, naturalist, writer, and photographer.