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

Black Diamond Helio 105 Review

Skis for human-powered powder skiing for those for whom the downhill is the priority
Black Diamond Helio 105
Photo: Backcountry
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Price:  $880 List | $601.30 at Amazon
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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60
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 13
  • Weight - 25% 5
  • Firm Snow - 20% 4
  • Powder - 20% 9
  • Crud and Poor Snow - 20% 6
  • Stability at Speed - 15% 6

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.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award  
Price $601.30 at Amazon$739.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$948.95 at Backcountry$700 List$649.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
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Pros Great dimensions and geometry for human powered powder skiingStable, damp, predictableStable, predictable downhill performance in all snow types and terrainInexpensive, balanced downhill performance, average weightSolid all around downhill performance, compatible with excellent Dynafit SpeedSkins
Cons Heavy, readily deflected in tough snowMid-weight, no real stand out performanceHeavySki “short”, powder skiing stability suffers at super high speedHeavier than average
Bottom Line If you ride a ton of powder snow and really, really prioritize your downhill experience, check this ski outThere is nothing remarkable about these skis, and that is a good thingGoes downhill very well, we just wish it was lighterWell-balanced, all-around skis for the human-powered skier looking for durable and lasting valueThe Beast leans decidedly in the downhill performance direction; they are heavy by comparison and for the dimensions, but they ski better than most
Rating Categories Black Diamond Helio 105 Black Crows Camox Freebird Kastle TX 103 Salomon MTN Explore 95 Dynafit Beast 98
Weight (25%)
5
6
5
6
6
Firm Snow (20%)
4
8
7
8
7
Powder (20%)
9
7
8
7
7
Crud And Poor Snow (20%)
6
8
8
7
7
Stability At Speed (15%)
6
7
8
7
8
Specs Black Diamond... Black Crows Camox... Kastle TX 103 Salomon MTN... Dynafit Beast 98
Weight Per Pair 7.1 lbs 6.7 lbs 7.6 lbs 6.8 lbs 6.8 lbs
Measured Length 186 cm 182 cm 180 cm 177 cm 183 cm
Manufacturer Length 185 cm 183 cm 181 cm 177 cm 184 cm
Available Lengths 165, 175, 185 cm 162, 172, 178, 183 cm 165, 173, 181, 189 cm 169, 177, 184 cm 170, 177, 184 cm
Claimed Dimensions 134/105/119 mm 130/97/115 mm 138/103/120 mm 130 / 95 / 116 mm 136/98/117 mm
Measured Dimensions 134/106/120 mm 137/97/117 mm 138/103/120 mm 130/95/116 mm 126/97/116 mm
Weight Per Ski grams 1606g, 1631g, average: 1619 g 1510g, 1509g, average: 1510 g 1727g,1708g, average :1718 g 1547g,1529g, average: 1538 g 1541g, 1553g, average: 1547 g
Weight Per Pair 3237 g 3024 g 3435 g 3076 g 3094 g
Weight Per Surface Area Ratio, g/cm^2 0.73 0.71 0.79 0.76 0.75
Construction Type Sandwich Cap Hybrid Semi-cap Sandwich Half-cap Sandwich
Core Material Balsa flax wood Paulownia, poplar Paulownia,poplar 3D Full Woodcore, C/FX reinforcement Ash/poplar wood
Waist Width 105 mm 97 mm 103 mm 95 mm 98 mm
Radius 22 meters 18 meters 19 meters 18 meters 21 meters
Rocker/Camber Early rise tip and tale, camber underfoot Tip rocker, camber underfoot Tip rocker, camber underfoot Rocker, camber, rocker Double Ellipse Rocker

Our Analysis and Test Results

For the winter of 20/21 Black Diamond has revamped their Helio line. The Helio 105 lost 1mm and made some construction updates. We will update this review with information on that Helio 104 when we get a chance to get on it.

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...
The Black Diamond Helio is a powder-slaying machine for human-powered adventures.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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...
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.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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...
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.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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...
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.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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

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
Photo: Jediah Porter

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
Photo: Jediah Porter

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