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Black Crows Corvus Freebird Review

Skis on the absolute heaviest end of what we’d consider suitable for backcountry skiing, these offer the best downhill performance in our review.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $860 List | $674.98 at Amazon
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Pros:  Floaty fast powder performance, stable at speed and through tough snow
Cons:  Heavy, high leverage in steep and firm conditions
Manufacturer:   Black Crows
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 11, 2018
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72
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 12
  • Weight - 25% 2
  • Stability at Speed - 15% 10
  • Firm Snow - 20% 7
  • Powder - 20% 9
  • Crud and Poor Snow - 20% 10

Our Verdict

In some reviews and circles, these are light skis. Among human powered skiers, though, a pair of skis at 8 pounds is now the upper frontier of what is reasonable to cart around. The Black Crows Corvus Freebird is indeed a powerful and versatile downhill rider, but you pay the penalty on the way up. If you can stomach the weight trade-off, you will be pleased in all but the iciest of conditions with the Corvus. In tough snow, fast powder carving, and high-speed corn, the mass and dimensions of the Corvus are unmatched. The Corvus is quite a bit lighter than comparable resort skis, which might make them appealing as your first backcountry skis. We can report, though, on good authority, that most are better served with skis for human-powered use that are even lighter than the Corvus Freebird. The Editors' Choice Kastle TX 98, for instance, is over a pound and a half lighter, with downhill performance that will shock you, in a good way. Of course, there are those of you that absolutely demand optimum downhill performance, for one reason or another. For you, the Corvus Freebird should be at the top of your shortlist.


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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $674.98 at Amazon
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$949 List$699 List$480.00 at Amazon$639.99 at Amazon
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Pros Floaty fast powder performance, stable at speed and through tough snowLight, well-balanced downhill performanceAll around ski performance, hit what we consider to be the weight ‘sweet spot’Light and versatileLight, all around downhill performance
Cons Heavy, high leverage in steep and firm conditionsExpensive, ski “short”Grabby firm snow performance, expensiveLimited poor snow performanceWobble in longer radius powder turns, slow down in tough snow
Bottom Line Skis on the absolute heaviest end of what we’d consider suitable for backcountry skiing, these offer the best downhill performance in our review.Excellent, all around backcountry skis for human powered adventures in nearly all conditions.Excellent backcountry skis for the majority of applications.All around choice for beginner to advanced backcountry skiers on a budget.Light, big mountain skis for human powered skiing in all conditions; you won’t ski like a movie star, but you will ski it all efficiently and easy on your wallet.
Rating Categories Black Crows Corvus Freebird Kastle TX98 Volkl VTA 98 Fischer Hannibal Blizzard Zero G 95
Weight (25%)
10
0
2
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
8
Stability At Speed (15%)
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
7
Firm Snow (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
9
Powder (20%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
6
Crud And Poor Snow (20%)
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
7
Specs Black Crows Corvus... Kastle TX98 Volkl VTA 98 Fischer Hannibal Blizzard Zero G 95
Tested length 183 178 184 183 178
Actual Length 181 177 185 183 176
Weight Per Pair (lbs.) 8.0 lbs 6.2 lbs 6.4 lbs 6.2 lbs 5.9 lbs
Available Lengths 175, 183, 188 168, 178, 188 156, 163, 170, 177, 184 162, 169, 176, 183 164, 171, 178, 185
Claimed Dimensions 136/109/120 128/98/117 133/98/116 126/96/114 128/95/111.5
Actual Dimensions 139/108/114 122/97/116 132/98/111 127/97/113 123/94/110
Weight Per Ski grams 1820g, 1825g, average: 1823g 1394g, 1400g, average: 1397g 1454g, 1449g, average: 1452g 1421g, 1388g, average: 1405g 1340g, 1347g, average: 1344g
Weight Per Pair grams 3645 2794 2903 2809 2687
Weight per Surface Area Ratio, g/cm^2 0.84 0.71 0.69 0.69 0.7
Construction Type Sandwich Cap Hybrid Sandwich Cap Hybrid Sandwich Cap Hybrid Sandwich Cap Hybrid Sandwich
Core Material Paulownia and poplar wood, fiberglass, carbon fiber Karuba Wood Beech, poplar & paulownia Paulownia wood with carbon stringers Paulownia wood, Carbon Drive Technology
Waist Width 109 98 98 97 95
Radius (meters) 21 22 22.3 21 21
Rocker/Camber Rockered tip, camber underfoot, raised tail Low camber Tip rocker Tip rocker Tip and tail rocker, camber underfoot

Our Analysis and Test Results

Big guns! Among "touring skis", despite what manufacturers' branding might suggest, these are as heavy as you should be considering. The Black Crows Corvus Freebird is almost twice the weight of our lightest tested skis and are more than twice the weight of skis our testers use on specialized missions. Other "backcountry" ski reviews mention just how light the Corvus Freebird is, but then go on to compare it to resort alpine skis and to refer to testing performed inbounds. The Corvus Freebird is light, as compared to resort skis. Here, we're comparing them to skis for human-powered riding. That is how Black Crows pitches them.

In actuality, as compared to all that is available, these are super heavy touring skis or light resort skis. Sure, there is a place on the market (and maybe in your quiver) for skis that bridge the gap between resort and backcountry, but they will be ill-suited for either application. This is a typical compromise piece of equipment, sitting on the fence separating different worlds. Read on for the summary of our largely favorable (once we adjusted to and allowed for the additional weight) experiences. Our experiences were favorable enough that we granted the Corvus Freebird our Top Pick award.

Performance Comparison


In total, these are just too heavy to score near the top of the heap. No amount of downhill performance will overcome those additional pounds for the average human-powered skier. For the occasionally human-powered skier, especially one that prefers absolute downhill performance, the Corvus Freebird might be just the ticket.

Steep  soft  variable  and fast. These are the conditions and circumstances under which one might justify lugging the pounds of extra mass in the Corvus Freebird.
Steep, soft, variable, and fast. These are the conditions and circumstances under which one might justify lugging the pounds of extra mass in the Corvus Freebird.

Weight


Eight pounds for a pair of backcountry skis is heavy. When there are choices on the market that are under five pounds, it is difficult to justify lugging these up giant mountains with your hard earned calories and muscles. The only justification is downhill performance. And lighter skis keep performing better and better.


All the other skis we tested for 2018-19 are at least a little lighter than the Corvus Freebird. Earlier in our ski testing, years ago now, we reviewed a few skis even heavier than these. Eight-pound skis five years ago were close to average, for human powered skiing. But technology just keeps improving and skis get lighter while maintaining reasonable performance. Of course, as we note extensively in our main comparative article, in our Backcountry Ski Buying Advice, and in each product review, weight does enhance downhill performance, up to a point. All else equal, heavier skis are going to go downhill better than lighter skis. That means that this Top Pick Corvus Freebird is the best downhill performer in our test.

On the surface, according to our chart, the Top Pick Black Diamond Glidelite Snow Trekkers appear to weigh a little more than the Corvus. This is misleading. The Snow Trekkers are a specialized piece of equipment for casual exploration and they include bindings and permanent skins that none of our other skis include.

When we eliminate weight from consideration, the Freebird is the highest scoring in our review. It is notable, though, that the Editors' Choice Kastle TX 98 approaches the overall downhill performance of the Freebird and weighs more than a pound and a half less, for the pair. Way out there as an outlier in the other direction, our other Top Pick award goes to the ultralight Atomic Backland UL 78. The Atomic gets its award for uphill efficiency and weighs 60% of what the Corvus Freebird does. All our other award winners weigh much less than the Corvus.

The Black Crows are heavy to begin with. The wider profile requires heavier skins and also collects more snow on the uptrack. Weight compounds.
The Black Crows are heavy to begin with. The wider profile requires heavier skins and also collects more snow on the uptrack. Weight compounds.

Stability at Speed


Of the major performance attributes, stability at speed is most inverse to weight. Mass literally helps stabilize your speed. Of course, other attributes enhance stability, but weight is right in the mix. As heavy skis (and skis that are very well made, with excellent dimensions and careful attention to materials and assembly) the Corvus Freebird are very stable at speed. These skis prefer high-speed riding, and track through tough stuff and smooth conditions almost equally as well. Of course, resort skis are going to be more stable, but for touring-specific sticks, the Black Crows are very stable. On wide-open Teton powder and big Sierra corn faces alike, the mass and long turning radius of the Corvus Freebird will inspire confidence underfoot. Size them long to get the full benefit of their stability.


No skis we tested really compare to the stability of the Corvus, especially when we compare across varied snow conditions. The Volkl VTA 98, as long as you have also sized it long, has powder riding stability that comes close to that of the Corvus Freebird. The Editors' Choice Kastle TX 98 has a dampness and smoothness in its flex that carves corn at speed almost as well as the Corvus. The Dynafit Beast 98 also rewards longer sizing and rides all but the densest of powder slopes with long-radius stability. Of course, the Corvus surpasses the Dynafit Beast, but not by much in good conditions. The lighter, smaller skis in our test don't even compare. The other Top Pick Atomic Backland UL 78 has a top speed that could be half that of the Corvus. The Best Buy Blizzard Zero G 95 is light and super stiff. It rewards a smaller sizing strategy which further exaggerates the stability differences between it and the Corvus.

When you need confidence and stability  like in flat light rowdy skiing  the stability and mass of the Black Crows might be worth the mass and uphill inefficiency.
When you need confidence and stability, like in flat light rowdy skiing, the stability and mass of the Black Crows might be worth the mass and uphill inefficiency.

Firm Snow


At high speeds, firm snow performance is more of a stability performance issue. For that, see above. The Corvus Freebird's stability advantages transfer just fine to fast and firm. That mass and the torsional rigidity (likely attributed to the sandwich construction and thick wood core) of the Corvus Freebird make for good hard snow carving capability. At lower speeds, usually on steeper and higher consequence terrain, the criteria for hard snow performance change a little bit. Stability is less important then than absolute edge hold and relative tip-to-tail edge hold. Wide skis require more force to grab hard snow. The Corvus Freebird is the widest ski we tested for 2018 and struggles to hold on the hard steeps as well as narrower skis. The good news is that the tip-to-tail edge grip distribution is perfectly balanced. Tip nor tail seems to grab unnecessarily, and the forces are distributed evenly underfoot.


We pretty deeply discount hard and fast low angle backcountry ski performance. This conditions and terrain set up just isn't that common in the wild. Carving at high speeds on rock hard snow is more of a resort ski consideration. Nonetheless, these skis do pretty well in that context, especially considering their width. Of course, resort carving skis will beat the pants off the Corvus Freebird, but the torsional rigidity and mass do a good job of exceeding the performance of most of the backcountry skis we have assessed. The closest competitor is the damp, forgiving, and narrower Editors' Choice Kastle TX 98. We were also pleasantly surprised at the hard snow carving performance of the Dynafit Beast 98.

When it is steep and firm  the wide underfoot of the Corvus Freebird adds unnecessary leverage to the force equation.
When it is steep and firm, the wide underfoot of the Corvus Freebird adds unnecessary leverage to the force equation.

We look more closely at steep and firm ski performance in this review. This is actually a very common backcountry skiing situation, and one that is high consequence; you need your backcountry skis to grab predictably and reliably in slow, technical, steep, icy skiing. In these contexts, the weight and width of the Corvus Freebird could be an issue. When one is conditioned to methodical steep skiing, lighter skis come around easier; to a point, of course. The sweet spot for weight for steep and hard skiing is something below the weight of the Corvus Freebird, our test team has found. The same can be said for ski width. Steep and firm riding rewards a sweet spot of width, usually around 90mm. At 109mm, the Corvus Freebird takes a lot of leverage to get gripping on ice. If we were choosing skis for just steep icy snow, we'd go with stiff, light skis around 90mm underfoot. The Best Buy Blizzard Zero G 95 is a good steep and technical tool. Similarly, the Editors' Choice Kastle TX 98 does well, though some wish it were a little stiffer, longitudinally.

Powder


In so many ways, powder skiing is what we live for. Even a dedicated backcountry skier might spend an entire season chasing a few thousand vertical feet, on one or two days, of perfect deep powder skiing. Because it is so fun, we highly prioritize powder skiing performance. It isn't that common though, and there is a very wide range of skis and ski design considerations that make for excellent powder performance. High powder performance is relatively easy to achieve, technique wise and in terms of equipment. All modern skis of "normal" dimensions ski powder very very well. That being said, there are subtle differences. The Corvus Freebird are very floaty in powder and like to go real fast in the softest of conditions. It is more difficult to slow things down and ride shorter radius turns.


The best powder skis we test float high in high speed turns and pop in all three dimensions in slower, shorter-radius turns. The Corvus Freebird excels in the former but require more work in the latter, while the most versatile powder skis in our review are the Volkl VTA 98. These bring a secret sauce of performance attributes that both wiggle and slay. The Top Pick for powder touring DPS Wailer 99 aren't as versatile on the downhill as the VTA, and they don't ride fast and steady like the Black Crows, but they do well enough to compete, and they are ridiculously light for scoring miles of vertical in a day.

Fast  open powder riding is home for the Black Crows Corvus Freebird.
Fast, open powder riding is home for the Black Crows Corvus Freebird.

Crud/Poor Snow


Like with stability, poor snow performance is enhanced by mass. Heavier skis bust through the crud better. Also, wide skis are less likely to get grabbed, deflected, or thrown around by tough snow conditions. The Corvus Freebird, for these reasons, are very high scoring poor snow performers. In breakable crust, correcting for differences in individual's technique, the Corvus pushes further into the spectrum of poor snow before requiring reversion to survival skiing tactics. The same can be said of sloppy "mashed potatoes" type snow, though our team found that in the most difficult of wet snow the length, weight, and width of the Corvus is overwhelmed in low-speed survival slop snow turns. When you really have to slow things down, smaller and lighter skis (to a point) are easier to maneuver.


No skis, overall, ride tough stuff as well as the Corvus Freebird. Weight and width are on the side of the Corvus. Smaller skis, even those that aren't that much smaller or lighter, get pushed around. The Black Diamond Route 95 is the next heaviest ski we tested for 2018 but it does not do nearly as well as the Corvus. The Corvus Freebird construction helps the size and mass of the ski to do its job. The round and gentle longitudinal flex pops up out of the tough stuff, while rocker geometry helps further.

Lead test editor ski guiding on the Corvus Freebird on a sloppy  wet late season Teton day. In these conditions  the bigger profile gets bogged down until you get 'em up to speed.
Lead test editor ski guiding on the Corvus Freebird on a sloppy, wet late season Teton day. In these conditions, the bigger profile gets bogged down until you get 'em up to speed.

Best Applications


We can recommend these skis for two very select user groups. First, these are great for the super strong climber that absolutely has to have optimum downhill performance, for whatever reason. Next, and we make this recommendation very reluctantly, we suggest these skis to those that insist on having a "quiver of one" that will work at resorts and in the backcountry. Resort skiing and backcountry skiing have very different demands, and asking one set of equipment to do both is a tall order. Many, many users seek equipment for these dual purposes, and there are almost as many users who are disappointed (in one way or another) with the performance of their chosen product in either or both settings. It is a difficult compromise to swallow. Of course, you may not know the difference. If, though, you have any exposure to human-powered touring on actual lightweight gear, you will have a tough time stomaching the energy expenditure associated with a bigger kit.

As compared to 2018 tested skis  the Corvus Freebird stands out for girth.
As compared to 2018 tested skis, the Corvus Freebird stands out for girth.

Value


These are expensive skis for a narrow niche of users. If you fit that niche, though, the Corvus Freebird might be on your short list.

Conclusion


For the discerning downhill skier with energy to spare on the uphill, these big guns are worth considering. If you are looking for skis to use both inbounds and out, first see above for our warning on this strategy and then consider the Top Pick Black Crows Corvus Freebird.

The bigger profile and higher-speed tendencies of the Black Crows lend it to pairing with heavier boots and bindings. Here  all "Top Pick" products are matched together for a high speed  heavy backcountry touring kit.
The bigger profile and higher-speed tendencies of the Black Crows lend it to pairing with heavier boots and bindings. Here, all "Top Pick" products are matched together for a high speed, heavy backcountry touring kit.


Jediah Porter