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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:  $900 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  ⋅  Oct 23, 2019
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72
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 15
  • 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 eight 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.

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 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.


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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award   Best Buy Award 
Price $674.98 at Amazon
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$949 List$698.95 at Backcountry$699.95 at Backcountry
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$458.00 at Amazon
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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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’Solid all around downhill performance, compatible with excellent Dynafit SpeedSkinsLight and versatile
Cons Heavy, high leverage in steep and firm conditionsExpensive, ski “short”Grabby firm snow performance, expensiveHeavier than averageLimited poor snow performance
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 in nearly all conditions.Excellent backcountry skis for the majority of applications.Touring skis for he or she that prefers downhill performance to uphill efficiency.All around choice for beginner to advanced backcountry skiers on a budget.
Rating Categories Black Crows Corvus Freebird Kastle TX98 Volkl VTA 98 Dynafit Beast 98 Fischer Hannibal
Weight (25%)
10
0
2
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
8
Stability At Speed (15%)
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
5
Firm Snow (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
Powder (20%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
8
Crud And Poor Snow (20%)
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
Specs Black Crows Corvus... Kastle TX98 Volkl VTA 98 Dynafit Beast 98 Fischer Hannibal
Weight Per Pair 8.0 lbs 6.2 lbs 6.4 lbs 6.8 lbs 6.2 lbs
Measured Length 181 cm 177 cm 185 cm 183 cm 183 cm
Manufacturer Length 183 cm 178 cm 184 cm 184 cm 183 cm
Available Lengths 175, 183, 188 cm 168, 178, 188 cm 156, 163, 170, 177, 184 cm 170, 177, 184 cm 162, 169, 176, 183 cm
Claimed Dimensions 136/109/120 mm 128/98/117 mm 133/98/116 mm 136/98/117 mm 126/96/114 mm
Measured Dimensions 139/108/114 mm 122/97/116 mm 132/98/111 mm 126/97/116 mm 127/97/113 mm
Weight Per Ski grams 1820g, 1825g, average: 1823g 1394g, 1400g, average: 1397g 1454g, 1449g, average: 1452g 1541g, 1553g, average: 1547g 1421g, 1388g, average: 1405g
Weight Per Pair 3645g 2794g 2903g 3094g 2809g
Weight per Surface Area Ratio, g/cm^2 0.84 0.71 0.69 0.75 0.69
Construction Type Sandwich Cap Hybrid Sandwich Cap Hybrid Sandwich Cap Hybrid Sandwich Sandwich Cap Hybrid
Core Material Paulownia and poplar wood, fiberglass, carbon fiber Karuba Wood Beech, poplar & paulownia Ash/poplar wood Paulownia wood with carbon stringers
Waist Width 109 mm 98 mm 98 mm 98 mm 97 mm
Radius 21 meters 22 meters 22.3 meters 21 meters 21 meters
Rocker/Camber Rockered tip, camber underfoot, raised tail Low camber Tip rocker Double Ellipse Rocker Tip rocker

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 is 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 possession) 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


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 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 some approach the overall downhill performance of the Freebird and weigh more than a pound and a half less for the pair.

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 compare to the stability of the Corvus, especially when we compare across varied snow conditions. Some come close in certain conditions, but the Corvus Freebird is tuned for all the snow types.

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 among the wider skis we tested for 2019-20 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. These conditions and terrain set up just aren'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.

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 80-90mm. At 109mm, the Corvus Freebird takes a lot of leverage to grab on ice. If we were choosing skis for just steep icy snow, we'd go with stiff, light skis around 90mm underfoot.

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 vast 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 is very floaty in powder and likes 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. The most versatile powder skis in our review bring a secret sauce of performance attributes that both wiggle and slay. The dedicated powder boards, though, don't handle non-powder skiing as well as the Top Pick Corvus Freebird.

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

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.

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.

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 should be high 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. 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.

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