Black Crows Corvus Freebird Review
Cons: Heavy, high leverage in steep and firm conditions, demand close skier attention
Manufacturer: Black Crows
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Black Crows Corvus Freebird
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|$1,200 List||$699.95 at Backcountry||Check Price at REI|
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|Pros||Floaty fast powder performance, stable at speed and through tough snow||Light for the uphill, balanced downhill performance for all conditions||All-around performance, damp, inexpensive, available, sweet spot weight||Stable, damp, predictable||Inexpensive, balanced downhill performance, average weight|
|Cons||Heavy, high leverage in steep and firm conditions, demand close skier attention||Expensive, generalized downhill performance||Soft and damp||Mid-weight, no real stand out performance||Ski “short”, powder skiing stability suffers at super high speed|
|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||Choose this ski for all-year, all-purpose human-powered skiing in any region of the world||Inexpensive, proven all-around performance that's suitable for a wide variety of backcountry skiers and ski conditions||Good skis for good skiers in all kinds of conditions; the definition of all around backcountry skis||Great, budget skis for backcountry skiers of all kinds; the all around, balanced performance appeals to a huge range of users|
|Rating Categories||Black Crows Corvus...||Movement Alp Tracks...||K2 Wayback 106||Black Crows Camox F...||Salomon MTN Explore 95|
|Firm Snow (20%)|
|Crud And Poor Snow (20%)|
|Stability At Speed (15%)|
|Specs||Black Crows Corvus...||Movement Alp Tracks...||K2 Wayback 106||Black Crows Camox F...||Salomon MTN Explore 95|
|Weight Per Pair||8.5 lbs||5.6 lbs||6.9 lbs||6.7 lbs||6.8 lbs|
|Weight Per Ski||1940g, 1923g, average: 1932g||1270g, 1272g, average: 1271g||1518g, 1557g, average: 1537g||1510g, 1509g, average: 1510g||1547g, 1529g, average:1538g|
|Weight Per Pair||3863g||2542g||3075g||3024g||3076g|
|Weight Per Surface Area Ratio, g/cm^2||0.86||0.62||0.71||0.71||0.76|
|Available Lengths||176, 183, 188cm||170, 177, 185cm||172, 179, 186cm||162, 172, 178, 183cm||169, 177, 184cm|
|Construction Type||Sandwich||Cap||Sandwich Cap Hybrid||Semi-cap||Half-cap|
|Core Material||Poplar||Karuba||Paulownia||Paulownia, poplar||3D Full Woodcore, C/FX reinforcement|
|Rocker/Camber||Tip and tail rocker, camber underfoot||Tip rocker, camber underfoot||Tip rocker, slight camber underfoot||Tip rocker, camber underfoot||Rocker, camber, rocker|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Big guns! Among “touring skis”, despite what other reviews 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. They are more than twice the weight of skis our testers use on specialized missions. It is funny; 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 (we have to credit Black Crows inc here. They are direct and honest about the weight point of these skis. It is third party reviewers that are conflating the matter). The Corvus Freebird is light, as compared to resort skis. Here, we’re comparing them to skis for human-powered riding. 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 heavy and 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.
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. The Corvus Freebird might be just the ticket for the occasionally human-powered skier, especially one that prefers absolute downhill performance. We have now tested two generations of this ski model. Bucking ski business trends, Black Crows keeps the look the same while changing construction, dimensions, and materials. The new version is just as good as the original. It is a little stiffer and more robust, downhill, at a very similar weight. The primary difference in recommendation we would make for the new version is that it skis a little "longer" than the original. We liked the original in 183 and wish we had tested the new one in 176cm.
1932 grams for a backcountry ski is heavy. When there are choices on the market that are under 1000g, 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.
Most other backcountry skis we have recently 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. 1900 gram skis 5 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 individual 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 Black Crows Corvus Freebird is the best downhill performer in our test. When we eliminate weight from consideration, the Freebird is the highest scoring in our review. It is notable that the Editors Choice winners approach the overall downhill performance of the Corvus Freebird and weigh a lot less. Our other Top Pick gets its award for uphill efficiency and weighs 60% of what the Black Crows Corvus Freebird does. All our other award winners weigh much less than the Corvus.
Stability at Speed
Of the major performance attributes, stability at speed is most inverse to weight. Mass literally helps stabilize your speed. Of course, there are other attributes that 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 Black Crows 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. In the original version, we recommended that you "size them long to get the full benefit of their stability". We no longer recommend this, with the latest version. Size them as you would any other skis, if not a little shorter.
No skis we tested really compare to the stability of the Corvus, especially when we compare across varied snow conditions.
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 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 relatively wide 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 setup 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.
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 are a liability. When one is conditioned to methodical steep skiing, lighter skis come around easier. To a point, of course. Our test team has found that the sweet spot for weight for steep and hard skiing is something below the weight of the Black Crows 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 107mm, the Corvus Freebird takes a lot of leverage to get gripping on ice. We’d go with stiff, light skis around 90mm underfoot if we were choosing skis for just steep icy snow.
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 of perfect deep powder skiing on one or two days. Because it is so fun, we highly prioritize powder skiing performance. It isn’t that common, though, and a very wide range of skis and ski design considerations 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 Black Crows Corvus Freebird are definitely 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.
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 Black Crows Corvus Freebird, for these reasons, are very high-scoring poor snow performers. In breakable crust, correcting for differences in individual’s technique, the Black Crows 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 Corvus's length, weight, and width 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 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.
These are expensive skis for a narrow niche of users. If you fit that niche, though, the Corvus Freebird might be on your shortlist.
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. There are many, many users who 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 very hard time stomaching the energy expenditure associated with bigger kit.These big guns are worth considering for the discerning downhill skier with energy to spare on the uphill. 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.
— Jediah Porter