The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Black Diamond Helio 105 Review

Skis for human-powered powder skiing for those for whom the downhill is the priority.
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Price:  $880 List | $659.99 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Great dimensions and geometry for human powered powder skiing
Cons:  Heavy, readily deflected in tough snow
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 23, 2019
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72
OVERALL
SCORE


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

Our Verdict

In overall scoring, the Black Diamond Helio 105 is almost exactly average. The strengths are in powder skiing, while the primary drawback is in weight. At just over 1600g per ski, the Helio is in the upper category of what we'd consider suitable for human-powered skiing; choose the Helio for moderate-paced and -scaled human-powered soft snow riding. Lighter options will help you go bigger, narrower options will do better on firm and variable, while either heavier or more sophisticated construction (or both) will grant more confidence in funky snow.


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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Great dimensions and geometry for human powered powder skiingLight, 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, readily deflected in tough snowExpensive, ski “short”Grabby firm snow performance, expensiveHeavier than averageLimited poor snow performance
Bottom Line Skis for human-powered powder skiing for those for whom the downhill is the priority.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 Diamond Helio 105 Kastle TX98 Volkl VTA 98 Dynafit Beast 98 Fischer Hannibal
Weight (25%)
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
8
Stability At Speed (15%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
5
Firm Snow (20%)
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
Powder (20%)
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
8
Crud And Poor Snow (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
Specs Black Diamond... Kastle TX98 Volkl VTA 98 Dynafit Beast 98 Fischer Hannibal
Weight Per Pair 7.1 lbs 6.2 lbs 6.4 lbs 6.8 lbs 6.2 lbs
Measured Length 186 cm 177 cm 185 cm 183 cm 183 cm
Manufacturer Length 185 cm 178 cm 184 cm 184 cm 183 cm
Available Lengths 165, 175, 185 cm 168, 178, 188 cm 156, 163, 170, 177, 184 cm 170, 177, 184 cm 162, 169, 176, 183 cm
Claimed Dimensions 134/105/119 mm 128/98/117 mm 133/98/116 mm 136/98/117 mm 126/96/114 mm
Measured Dimensions 134/106/120 mm 122/97/116 mm 132/98/111 mm 126/97/116 mm 127/97/113 mm
Weight Per Ski grams 1606g, 1631g, average: 1619g 1394g, 1400g, average: 1397g 1454g, 1449g, average: 1452g 1541g, 1553g, average: 1547g 1421g, 1388g, average: 1405g
Weight Per Pair 3237g 2794g 2903g 3094g 2809g
Weight per Surface Area Ratio, g/cm^2 0.73 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 Balsa flax wood Karuba Wood Beech, poplar & paulownia Ash/poplar wood Paulownia wood with carbon stringers
Waist Width 105 mm 98 mm 98 mm 98 mm 97 mm
Radius 22 meters 22 meters 22.3 meters 21 meters 21 meters
Rocker/Camber Early rise tip and tale, camber underfoot Low camber Tip rocker Double Ellipse Rocker Tip rocker

Our Analysis and Test Results

Black Diamond has a loyal following, and their skis are steadily catching up in quality and performance. With the Helio generation of skis, they have moved manufacturing to Austria, partnering with Blizzard for manufacturing. The design is by Black Diamond, with consult and eventual assembly done by the Austrians. The result, at least with the Helio 105 is a ski almost perfectly built for what human-powered skiers of the American Mountain West want. The weight is less than resort skis, but not featherweight. The dimensions are tailored for a definite soft-snow tilt.

Notice that we indicate that these are made for what many of us want. We all want to ski 100% powder snow on giant, untracked, wide-open human-powered mountains. That isn't always the reality. If it is your reality, the Helio is perfect. If your reality is more like that of the rest of us, you might think of choosing something lighter for the uphill, narrower for firm snow, and more damp for funky snow conditions.

Performance Comparison


The Black Diamond Helio is a powder-slaying machine for human-powered adventures.
The Black Diamond Helio is a powder-slaying machine for human-powered adventures.

Weight


1600 grams per ski marks the point at which we currently discern between all-around touring skis and "heavy" touring skis. The Helio 105 (in the tested 185cm length) averages just over 1600g; this weight category certainly performs well on the downhill. However, we find that sophisticated materials and manufacturing can deliver skis that perform as well at 150-200 grams less. That lower weight is noticeable on the uphill. Essentially, we wish the Helio were a little lighter. To choose these skis, you need to prioritize the downhill.

The Helio 105 is in the lower weight echelon of heavy touring skis. Or in the upper realm of typical touring skis. For extended backpack carry  like you might find in big mountain ski mountaineering  you will notice that weight.
The Helio 105 is in the lower weight echelon of heavy touring skis. Or in the upper realm of typical touring skis. For extended backpack carry, like you might find in big mountain ski mountaineering, you will notice that weight.

Most of our other award winners are considerably lighter than the Helio. The Editors' Choice trims about 200 grams from the Helio and skis downhill just as well, overall.

Stability at Speed


Weight and length lend stability at speed, as does the longitudinal and torsional stiffness of carbon fiber construction. We tested a big version of the Helio and enjoyed its stability. Even in tight trees, we could rocket around with confidence in our trajectory. In open terrain and with big boots, even with the tested ultralight bindings, we could easily ski faster than our relatively high backcountry risk tolerance should have allowed. Others accomplish similar stability confidence in very different ways.

Black Diamond designs the Helio 105 with a fair amount of carbon in them. The flex  though  is round and even  matching that of heavier  non-carbon skis.
Black Diamond designs the Helio 105 with a fair amount of carbon in them. The flex, though, is round and even, matching that of heavier, non-carbon skis.

Firm Snow


You shouldn't be choosing a ski of these specifications for firm snow performance. Even Black Diamond recommends these for a 70/30 split of soft/firm snow skiing. Their catalog copy goes on to imply the limitations they see with firm snow performance. Our experience backs up these limitations. Our few short experiences with mid-winter Teton hard snow conditions on the Helio 105 were uninspiring. The edges wash out, and the grip is squirrelly at best. We alternated skiing them with two different boots. Predictably, the Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS didn't have what it took for even basic firm snow skiing. On soft snow, though, we were pleasantly surprised to drive these big, long, relatively heavy skis with such small boots.

As long as your couloir hunting is the powdery sort  a short version of the Helio 105 wold serve you well. We wouldn't recommend the Helio for much firm snow ski mountaineering though.
As long as your couloir hunting is the powdery sort, a short version of the Helio 105 wold serve you well. We wouldn't recommend the Helio for much firm snow ski mountaineering though.

Powder


As hinted at just above, we did most of our powder skiing on the BD Helio 105 with boots from the upper end of the rando race class. You won't find many recommending that the Scarpa Alien RS be used to drive 105mm waist skis. We like breaking the rules. It is a testament to the even flex and centered sweet spot of the Helio 105 that we could "get away with" this strategy. We have not had such favorable experiences with these boots on anything bigger than 100mm. The Helio shows its Wasatch roots with immaculate powder performance. Tight trees and snappy turns are just as fun as wide open meadow-hauling.

The dimensions and construction of the Black Diamond Helio are optimized for soft snow and fit human power.
The dimensions and construction of the Black Diamond Helio are optimized for soft snow and fit human power.

Crud/Poor Snow


Dimensions, mass, geometry, and construction all suggest that the Helio should be a pretty good poor snow performer. Dampened deep powder snow turns further point to good crud turns.

The tail profile of the Black Diamond Helio
The tail profile of the Black Diamond Helio

Nonetheless, we didn't find anything special with the breakable crust performance of the Helio 105. (and, yes, we did ski it with bigger boots. Of course, it will suffer under the Alien boots. It also didn't impress when driven with the Editors Choice Tecnica Zero G).

The early rise tip of the 185cm tested Black Diamond Helio 105
The early rise tip of the 185cm tested Black Diamond Helio 105

Value


They aren't cheap, but they aren't in the same price class as the upper echelon. Aside from in perfect powder snow, these are in the middle class of performance and cost. Value and performance are roughly in line.

Conclusion


Pair them with light boots and bindings for a fun all-day setup. Those with higher standards for the down can mount them with beefier bindings and drive them with four buckle overlap boots and still not get weird looks. Aside from how you strategize your gear pairings, we wouldn't say these are particularly versatile skis. The Helio 105 is a soft snow specialist. While we all want to be soft snow specialists, reality often intervenes.

Tested skis keep clustering closer and closer to the top of our score sheet (until we recalibrate and spread scores again); this is a function of all skis improving. The rising tide is definitely lifting all ships. One tester, after just a few turns with the Helio 105 was able to confidently assert that "this is the best Black Diamond ski I have ever used". The rest of our team agrees. The Helio is carefully constructed to excel in deep and steep days; it suffers on tough snow, firm snow, and some options are considerably lighter for energy efficiency.


Jediah Porter