Black Diamond Helio 105 Review
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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