In the haze at the end of a day spent touring the Fritschi binding factory, skinning up and skiing down a small peak called the Gehrihorn and being treated to a full Swiss fondue, we were in a bar in Thun listening to a band singing “Surfing Switzerland” (to the tune of the Beach Boys). The song would become a rallying cry for the rest of our trip, since Europe was in the midst of its best winter in a decade and we were armed with an array of next season’s fat, freeriding Black Diamond skis. And, oh, was the Swiss surf up.
Black Diamond invited us to Switzerland to test its latest skis and get a feel for its European business. While BD is a core brand for hard-charging, deep-snow loving addicts here in the states, that demographic is slightly different in piste-happy Europe. Here, BD, which is well respected as a climbing company, has to compete against big, traditional, ski brands when it comes to capturing the hearts and minds of European freeriders. To compete, the company focuses on product performance-and boy did next season’s crop perform when we put them to the test in the heart of Europe.
I put in one day each on four different skis in varying conditions. It wasn’t exactly enough to get a full feel for each set of boards, but enough to know what I liked and have a sense for what conditions were best for that ski. I wore Black Diamond’s Custom boot (which I had heard was super stiff, but found to be quite pliable and light). We were also lucky enough to have Black Diamond’s ski product manager and designer Thomas Laakso on the trip. He was able to both educate me on the ins and outs of ski design (he decided he was going to be a ski designer in 1st grade and is living the dream now after work as a carbon fiber engineer and a stint at The North Face) and wow us with his skills on the mountain.
Here’s my quick take on the skis:
This was a solid choice for our day touring on the Gehrihorn, which is the small, prominent peak you can see from the parking lot of the Fritschi factory. BD softened up the Havoc for 09/10 to make it a bit more versatile, which was a good thing considering the conditions on the Gehrihorn. Mounted with a very effective and easy-to-use BD O1 binding, it proved ideal for skinning. (Our guide Manuel insisted we skin the “Swiss” way, which meant a slow-but-steady pace and big, long switchbacks.) Although we hit a few decent pockets of soft snow most of the ski down was breakable crust-tough stuff on any skis and almost impossible to telemark without taking a header (which I did). That said, the Havoc, which measures a thin-by-today’s-standards 123-88-115 in a 185cm ski, inspired confidence underfoot (though I did yearn for a big ski underfoot for more stability). It powered out crisp alpine turns and gave me a fighting chance in difficult conditions. It’s a classic board that would be a nice single-quiver board for day-to-day skiing and some backcountry up at Loveland and A-Basin.
Our best day of skiing in Switzeralnd began with four train rides, starting at 6 a.m. in Thun, with transfers in Bern, Zurich and Landquart. By eleven, we were in Davos. Boots on, packs packed, lunch in a paper bag from a local bakery and on the bus to Pischa, which is classified as a “freeride” area since there is no grooming here. By noon, we were headed up the tram, down to a T-bar and off the backside of the resort for one epic, steep-and-deep descent and a hitchhike back into Davos. My ski du jour was the brand-new, fat Justice (140-115-125 in a 185 with only a very slight camber), which BD bills as a more user friendly version of its big, bad Megawatt. The ski was easy to like-it arced big turns and floated effortlessly down a short chute and into 1,500-foot of wide-open European sweet stuff. I even hopped off a small rock and got tossed into the back seat on landing. I was quite ready to eat it, but the skis kept me up like a Weeble so that I could retain my composure and pop back up. Later in the day, we skied another run out-of-bounds at Pischa in sticky, sun-affected snow and the Justice was big enough to smash through the slop yet also quick underfoot. This is going to be one popular ski. Slightly soft. Yearning to run in the untracked but capable enough in bounds, though you would not want it on a day without at least some fresh stuff and need to get used to the slide-y turn feel of a ski with very little camber. $729
Ah, but my heart belongs to the Megawatt. The 09/10 version is huge at 147-120-126 in a 178 cm ski (it also comes in an even wider 188). It’s rockered in the tip with zero camber. But it also has some sidecut underneath so that it’s not inept on piste. Don’t be scared off by those meaty dimensions-it’s a smooth ride in powder. I skied the Megs on teles and didn’t find it too big at all. In fact, the ski makes telemarking deep stuff easier since your usually problematic back ski floats pretty much by itself, meaning you can concentrate on the turn instead of trying to keep the tip up in the back ski. On day three, we hit another big, out-the-gates line at Rinerhorn and the Meagawatt was the perfect tool for the wide-pen Alpine terrain. I weighted and unweighted, jumping from from turn to turn with ease. Later, when we skied a nasty, sloppy tree run off Rinerhorn, the big skis turned admirably in tight, wretched conditions. This is the ski for big, deep days, cat/heli trips, Utah and Alaska. $825
The Verdict has received a ton of praise-for good reason. It’s one versatile, stable ski. The 09 version, which measures 131-100-118 in a 180cm ski, incorporates an Internal Wall Core technology with “snappy” birch to give it a bit more sensitivity. For our final ski day in Davos we stayed in area, since warm weather was rapidly messing with conditions in the backcountry. From the top of Parsenn, we ventured off piste into what BD’s Dan Caruso called “the worst conditions he skied all year”-breakable crust and sun-wrecked mush. It didn’t feel all that bad with the Verdict, which offered enough of a platform and enough muscle to stay as stable as I could keep them on the crust and hold an edge on refrozen junk. From there, we skied like European tourists, absolutely bombing the groomers and having a blast doing it. The Verdict held a nice edge (I might even detune it a tad) and although it took me a few runs to get used to BD’s O2 binding (which does not need to be bullied, but instead lets the ski do the work) in-area, when it clicked it felt powerful to simply let the ski do its thing. This is a versatile ski that can do anything from running soft bumps and tight tree lines to tackling variable conditions in the untracked.
Leave a comment and let us know what you think about the skis (if you have been lucky enough to get on them).