Nov 16 2017

Ski Review: Black Diamond Helio 88


Howie rips mush with BD's Helio 88 and a full pack.

Howie rips mush with BD’s Helio 88 and a full pack.

Now that the pendulum is swinging back from the fringes of phat skis to moderately wide skis, what used to called fat but is now even skinny, Black Diamond’s Helio 88 should perk your interest. It’s a solid ski that lets you minimize weight without sacrificing good performance. Of course, a lot depends on your weight, boot, skill level, and how far you want push the boundaries.

Firm Snow

With a sub 90mm waist the Helio 88 is narrow enough that it holds a solid edge on hard pack although not so much at speed. It is, afterall, a lightweight, carbon infused ski so it won’t perform as well as a sturdier plank would in frozen crud, but that tends to be an in-bounds condition, not backcountry where the Helio prefers to slide. Some of that also depends on whether you’re turning with a locked or free heel. When it matters though, like when I was descending a 40°+ field of refrozen corn with a 50 pound pack the Helio 88 had plenty of muscle to keep a grip and not wash out.

Howie rips hardpack with the Helio 88 and a day pack

Howie rips hardpack with the Helio 88 and a day pack

Part of the holding power comes from a traditional tail with just a slight bit of rocker for doing fallen leaf maneuvers at the headwall of a narrow couloir, or through tight trees that require slowing down and stitching a path through. I liked it for giving a snappy rebound to each turn, something that added confidence while pedal-hopping that 40-plus degree slope of frozen granular that I’d need a self arrest grip to hold on if the edges failed me. They didn’t.

Deep Snow

Howie rips pow with the Helio 88 and a very full, 5-day pack.

Howie rips pow with the Helio 88 and a very full, 5-day pack.

The tip of the ski sports an early rise tip. It isn’t dramatic, but helps lift the tip when breaking trail or cutting fresh tracks. You’ll need some old fashioned technique in a cold, 3-foot deep Tahoe dump, but will have plenty of float for a 20cm refresh in the Rocky Mountains. It’s a perfect ski for spring tours, holding a good edge on refrozen corn and plenty of float in overdone corn snow, but not rotten mush. Part of the skis appeal is a good balance of flotation and flex so that even when fully submerged in deep snow it isn’t prone to diving, but cruises sweetly below the surface. With subtle shifts in weighting you can even coax a few porpoising turns out of the Helio 88, and for sure with the wider versions.

Mounting zone

As a light backcountry ski telemark bindings are typically not recommended for a ski as small as the Helio 88. That didn’t stop me from mounting a pair of Outlaw X’s but I did install inserts for the rear two holes to increase retention strength. There is a reinforced titanal plate in the mounting zone, but it doesn’t run to the edge of the raised wood core. If you have the Helio 95, 105, or 116 there’s plenty of metal surface area for a secure mounting.

Tail bumper

There’s a nice ABS bumper at the tail for pounding the tails on a rock to shake the snow off. It’s shaped so the tail hook of your climbing skins will stay centered.

Black Diamond's Helio 88. Top, bottom and side view.

Black Diamond’s Helio 88. Top, bottom and side view.

Bottom Line

Not being a big fan of phat skis I’m impressed with the Helio 88 for delivering a wide performance spectrum. It’s light so it tours great, especially if your boots and bindings can match the lightweight standard set by the Helio. It’s plenty wide for decent tele floatation in deep snow and if 88 is too narrow for you, there are fatter models.
Highly recommended.

Black Diamond
Helio 88
MSRP: $800
Lengths available

Length (cm)
Weight (pair)
2.1 kg
2.4 kg
2.6 kg
Weight (pair)
4 lb., 9 oz.
5 lb., 3 oz.
5 lb., 13 oz.
119-88-110 mm
Turn Radius (m)
17 m
18 m
19 m

© 2017


  • Mark Thomasson

    Weight per pair – surely?

  • Dostie

    Good catch. Surely that’d be per pair, not per ski as originally published.

  • andy

    Thats good to know about the location of the metal plate on the mounting area. I saw Rene Martin talking about his Helio 95 and 116 on his site and was wondering if putting tele bindings on these skis was rolling the dice.

    So the 95 and up would be pretty solid with Outlaws? Awesome!!