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 | $879.95 at REI
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  ⋅  Feb 27, 2019
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72
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 12
  • 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. 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.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $879.95 at REI$949 List$699 List$480.00 at Amazon$639.99 at Amazon
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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’Light and versatileLight, all around downhill performance
Cons Heavy, readily deflected in tough snowExpensive, ski “short”Grabby firm snow performance, expensiveLimited poor snow performanceWobble in longer radius powder turns, slow down in tough snow
Bottom Line Skis for human-powered powder skiing for those for whom the downhill is the priority.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 Diamond Helio 105 Kastle TX98 Volkl VTA 98 Fischer Hannibal Blizzard Zero G 95
Weight (25%)
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
8
Stability At Speed (15%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
7
Firm Snow (20%)
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
9
Powder (20%)
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
6
Crud And Poor Snow (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
7
Specs Black Diamond... Kastle TX98 Volkl VTA 98 Fischer Hannibal Blizzard Zero G 95
Tested length 185 178 184 183 178
Actual Length 186 177 185 183 176
Weight Per Pair (lbs.) 7.1 lbs 6.2 lbs 6.4 lbs 6.2 lbs 5.9 lbs
Available Lengths 165,175,185 168, 178, 188 156, 163, 170, 177, 184 162, 169, 176, 183 164, 171, 178, 185
Claimed Dimensions 134/105/119 128/98/117 133/98/116 126/96/114 128/95/111.5
Actual Dimensions 134/106/120 122/97/116 132/98/111 127/97/113 123/94/110
Weight Per Ski grams 1606g, 1631g, average: 1619g 1394g, 1400g, average: 1397g 1454g, 1449g, average: 1452g 1421g, 1388g, average: 1405g 1340g, 1347g, average: 1344g
Weight Per Pair grams 3237 2794 2903 2809 2687
Weight per Surface Area Ratio, g/cm^2 0.73 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 Balsa flax wood Karuba Wood Beech, poplar & paulownia Paulownia wood with carbon stringers Paulownia wood, Carbon Drive Technology
Waist Width 105 98 98 97 95
Radius (meters) 22 22 22.3 21 21
Rocker/Camber Early rise tip and tale, camber underfoot Low camber Tip rocker Tip rocker Tip and tail rocker, camber underfoot

Our Analysis and Test Results

Black Diamond equipment 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


Tested skis keep clustering closer and closer to the top of our score sheet; 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.

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 Black Diamond 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 really 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.

All of our other award winners, aside from the Top Pick Black Crows Corvus Freebird are considerably lighter than the Helio. The Corvus earns its award for unstoppable downhill performance at about 200 grams more per ski than the Helio. The Editors Choice Kastle TX 98 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. Open terrain and big boots, even with the tested ultralight bindings, we could easily ski faster than our relatively high backcountry risk tolerance should have allowed. The Black Diamond Route 95 accomplishes similar stability confidence in very different ways. The ultra damp construction of the Kastle TX 98 is stable in its own unique way. The big gun Black Crows Corvus Freebird outpaces all of these, in terms of stability.

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. Damp 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 really impress when driven with the Editors Choice Atomic Hawx 120).

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

Best Applications


Choose the Black Diamond 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.

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 in the middle class of 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.


Jediah Porter