2019-2020 Black Diamond Helio 116 Carbon

I remember very well when Black Diamond released the first Megawatt in 2007, and a pair of them subsequently accompanied me on ski trips throughout South America, the lower 48, home in Alaska, and even on some sketchy freeski comps. After my time on the Megawatt (a very good ski), I’ve paid close attention to what BD has been doing with powder skis over the years. So I was very curious when they debuted the Helio 116 Carbon, which is now the fattest ski in their lineup. I was even more intrigued when I saw an estimated weight of 1650 g for the 186 cm Helio 116.

It’s worth quickly noting that our review was conducted on the 17/18 Helio 116. The 18/19 version keeps the same shape and rocker profile but will include a “layer of rubber” around the edges and in the tip that’s intended to increase dampness (all the Helio skis will feature this rubber layer). I’m excited to check out the 18/19 version as soon as possible, but according to Black Diamond, the overall ride of the 18/19 Helio 116 is very similar to the 17/18 version, with reportedly slightly better damping.

Touring Performance

After spending a few days touring on heavier skis, it was a pleasure to jump on the Helio 116 mounted with the Fritschi Vipec 12 and paired with Black Diamond’s UltraLite Mix skins. While not a huge deal everyday, the extra 200-300 grams that the Helio 116 shaves off of a heavier powder touring ski like the Moment Wildcat Tour definitely adds up. At the end of a long day, I can honestly say that those couple hundred grams can make the difference between taking another run and heading for the car.

If I were to do it over again, I would mount the Helio 116 with an even lighter binding like the Dynafit Superlite 2.0 that I have on my Helio 105’s, or the rebranded ~200 gram ATK bindings that Black Diamond will be selling next year under the Helio moniker. A lighter binding setup would make the Helio 116 a ridiculously light and capable pow chaser.

Paul Forward reviews the Black Diamond Helio 116 for Blister
Paul Forward on the Black Diamond Helio 116 Carbon, Alaska.

Other touring-friendly design features on the Helio 116 include dedicated skin notches (that perfectly match up with the tails on my favorite BD skins) and top sheets that seem easier than average to clear of snow. The Helio 116’s white graphic probably assists that latter point during times of the year when the sun is hot but the snow is still cold.

Aside from the low weight, however, my favorite uphill-oriented feature of the Helio line is the skis’ flatter tails that makes steep, techy kick-turns way easier (the flatter tails let you jam the tail of one ski under the base of the other). The flatter tails also allow for more secure use of the skis for an impromptu anchor and make the skis easier to stab into the snow or slide into a ski carry system. Despite the flatter tail, the Helio 116 still has enough tail splay and rocker that it’s possible to slide backwards when needed without hanging up on the tails.

Firm Snow

I used to spend my whole Alaskan winter ski touring season on >120mm underfoot skis and only switched over to the skinnier skis for spring corn missions. These days I put in a lot more days on skis in the 95-105 mm class than I ever used to, but I still spend the vast majority of my days in the backcountry chasing powder on bigger skis. Because of that, I have lot of experience skidding, bouncing, and sometimes carving my way down all kinds of snow on fat, relatively light skis.

With that in mind, I feel fairly confident saying that the Helio 116 is a remarkable performer in firm and bumpy conditions relative to its weight and width. It definitely doesn’t have the firm- and bumpy-snow stability of the much heavier Wildcat Tour or Head Kore 117, but the Helio 116 provides a markedly damper ride than some of the older carbon-construction touring skis like the old DPS Pure Lotus 120. If the 18/19 Helio 116’s construction really does provide a damper ride at a similar weight to the 17/18 version (which is what BD is claiming), the 18/19 Helio 116 will likely be even more impressive in this regard.

Paul Forward reviews the Black Diamond Helio 116 for Blister
Paul Forward on the Black Diamond Helio 116 Carbon, Alaska. (photo by Shasta Hood)

On firm snow, the 25-meter sidecut radius of the Helio 116 feels just about right to me. The ski can be pushed into tight, aggressively carved turns on smooth surfaces, but it still doesn’t feel particularly hooky when survival skiing / skidding down bumpy, cruddy, or refrozen conditions.

Overall, the Helio 116 is surprisingly confidence-inspiring on firm conditions, as long as you’re willing to slow down a little compared to how you’d ski with full-on alpine gear.

It’s also worth noting that while it was totally manageable with ultralight boots like the Scarpa Alien RS, the Helio 116 was way more fun on firm snow when matched with a stiffer boot like the Scarpa Maestrale RS or Salomon S/Lab MTN.

Breakable Conditions

While my wife and plenty of my friends think I’m crazy, I do take a little twisted pleasure in skiing some breakable crust and other difficult snow conditions. I’m still not 100% sure what design features I most appreciate in a ski for these conditions, but I can say that an intuitive and easy-to-ride fat ski like the Helio 116 is a pretty decent choice. As with firm conditions, I had a lot more fun on the Helio 116 in breakable crust on days that I chose a beefier boot. But with a balanced stance and mindful technique, I still had a surprisingly good time careening around in breakable snow on the Helio 116 while wearing the ultralight Alien RS or Salomon S/Lab X-Alp.


My first pow run on the Helio 116 was in about 12-14” of light, dry powder on a classic, wide-open Alaskan face. This was also the day after I had skied a bunch of runs on an almost identical slope on the Faction Prime 4.0. I dropped into the run a little hesitant as it’d be my first turns on the Helio 116, but by my third turn any doubt about the floatation and balance of the Helio 116 melted away. I immediately found myself arcing long, slarved-out turns all the way to the creek bottom with more confidence than I’d felt after days of trying to figure out the Prime 4.0.

It was readily apparent that the tip shape, flex, and rocker profile of the Helio 116 provided more floatation than most skis of this width. (It reminded me of the way that the Salomon QST 106 also provides way more floatation in pow than its dimensions would suggest.) The second thing that was immediately noticeable (especially after having just skied the Prime 4.0) was that the Helio 116 felt like a nicely balanced ski that provided ample tip and tail support while still being easy to break free into a drifted turn. (It’s worth noting that the “Candide” mount position of the Prime 4.0 that I finally settled on is just about identical to the -9 cm recommended mount on the Helio 116.)

Of all the skis that I included in our recent powder touring ski Deep Dive, I would say that only the DPS Tour1 Lotus 124 is more playful and “drifty” than the Helio 116 in deep pow. The Helio 116’s balanced feel and very low swingweight also makes it a great ski for tighter terrain and quick pivot turns / direction changes. Overall, the Helio 116 is a great powder ski and I think it would thrive in anything from big Alaskan terrain to tight Japanese tree-dodging.

Paul Forward reviews the Black Diamond Helio 116 for Blister
Paul Forward on the Black Diamond Helio 116 Carbon, Alaska. (photo by Shasta Hood)

Throughout the rest of the season it became increasingly hard for me to grab any other touring skis beside the Helio 116, right up until things started to get hot and corny. The Helio 116 is so light that I don’t mind lugging it around for long-distance tours, it’s easy enough to turn that I can tour in my lightest boots, and it still handles weird snow as long as I’m willing to slow down a little.

It’s probably worth noting that as good as the Helio 116 is, it would never be my first choice for big-mountain heli-skiing or other situations where I might have the option of longer, heavier, and / or damper skis coupled with alpine bindings and alpine boots. Similarly, skiing inbounds powder on the Helio — especially in dense maritime snow — would require slowing down quite a bit compared to dedicated inbounds skis.

A Note on Length

At 6’, 195 lbs (in street clothes), 186 cm is about as short as I like to go for powder skis, and I wouldn’t want to go much shorter than the 186 cm Helio 116. That said, the tail of the 186 cm Helio 116 feels just about perfect in terms of being supportive enough that I can pull myself out of the backseat (or stay there and ski if I need to!) while still having enough splay so I can throw them sideways with very little effort in most conditions. Overall, I think the Helio 116 skis pretty true to length and if in doubt on sizing, I’d follow conventional wisdom and size up if you like to go fast or ski a lot of big terrain. I’d size down if you’re more inclined to ski a little slower and make short turns when you’re out touring, or if you prefer a shorter ski for kick turns (although good technique can solve the vast majority of skintrack ski-length issues).

Bottom Line

It took about one day of touring on the Black Diamond Helio 116 Carbon for it to become my go-to winter touring ski. It’s not the most stable ski (it only weighs ~1670 grams, after all), it’s not quite the most playful, and it still gets knocked around like a superlight fat ski. But overall, the Helio 116 is super fun in pow, provides excellent floatation in deep snow, is balanced and intuitive in all types of backcountry conditions, and it’s so light that it’s easy to justify dragging it out even if it might not be super deep day.

NEXT: Rocker Profile Pictures

26 comments on “2019-2020 Black Diamond Helio 116 Carbon”

  1. About flex pattern part in your reviews. What do you mean by “Underfoot”? I always thought that it’s somewhere near boot mid-mark. But order of #3 and #4 a bit confusing

    #1 Tips: 5.5-6
    #2 Shovels: 6-7
    #3 In front of Heel Piece: 8-9
    #4 Underfoot: 10
    #5 Behind Heel piece: 9
    #6 Tails: 8.5-9

    • Hi, Vale – apologies, there was a typo in the review, which has now been fixed.

      By underfoot I mean (broadly speaking) the center of the ski — or roughly, between the bindings. So that would include the midsole mark.

      So from #1 – #6, I mean to identify the flex pattern as it moves from the very tip of the ski on back to the end of the tail. Tips -> Shovels -> Front of Toe Piece -> Underfoot -> Behind Heel Piece -> Tails

      • Thanks, now it is clear! It would be useful if you describe (or even better – show) someday the procedure how you check the flex, cause everybody do it in his own way

  2. Got to demo these guys at Alpine Meadows on Saturday in some seriously saturated snow (hot pow) and REALLY dug them. I have some BD Amperages (now the Boundary), and it felt just familiar enough to what I liked in that model while improving on it in every way I would have liked. Their on piste/ harder snow performance seemed much better even with dropping a ton of weight. The tails felt better, couldn’t really tell you exactly what made it better though. Loved the light weight for jump turning in some of the narrow short couloirs at Alpine.

    Didn’t really test any “top end” abilities of it.

  3. About to mount a pair of these in 186. The BC line looks waaaay forward given the amount of tip rocker, thinking 1.5cm behind the BC line. -2cm looks even better, but hesitate to deviate too far from the factory line.

  4. Skied these for a (powder day), in 185cm. Frisch it Tecton BBinding, Cochise 120 boot.

    Two hours of resort powder morning to start, some trees, some smooth, low angle resort powder (10”), chopped Powder and some moguls. No issues with stability or agility at my (low)speeds.
    The skied them in the backcountry for the afternoon. Plenty of float for the 11” fresh on a slightly firmer deep lauer. Tips planed up, agile enough, mostly skied open terrain, nothing steep or tight trees.

  5. Have run these down some double black diamond runs ranging from fresh turns to mixed conditions and they performed perfectly! Running them on telemark bindings with no issue (so far)!

  6. Hi Paul,
    If you had a chance to measure the length of tip & tail rocker sections, that would be super helpful in contextualizing tip & tail rise numbers. Funny you mention breakable crust in your Helio 116 review: I’m looking to replace my Voile V8, which is quite similar on paper, due to poor performance in breakable / heavy variable snow. I put that down to what I call the “fatal combo”: deep camber (8.7mm!) in conjunction w/ too much sidecut (18m). I have two other skis in the 115-135mm width range w camber heights of 3-4mm and they perform far better in breakable/variable regardless of sidecut (16m-22m).

  7. A little update from my last comment.

    Height: 5’11” Weight: 155lbs
    Binding: Vipec
    Mount point: -2.5 to -2.75 depending on which boot I use

    I managed to score a used 186 length and was a tiny bit apprehensive about the extra length as I normally ski 175-180 length skis, but have been VERY stoked on them.
    The extra length is not noticed as much for two reasons; they’re so damn light, and that tip rocker travels pretty far down the ski so the effective edge is much closer to my non powder skis. Mostly inbounds on them, with both saturated powder, fresh pow days, and full spring corn, and holy shit are they fun. Love the extra surface area especially doing any little cliff drops or jumps, and when I really want to drive the front of the ski. DID find the speed limit of them straight lining back to the lifts, but it almost seems to my untrained eye that the tune on them might be base high so maybe that plays into it. Yeah they aren’t laying down trenches on the piste but they felt better than my Amperages. I could care less about that with how light and fun they are in powder. The flat-er tail though probably helps that firmer snow feel.

    Did definitely mounted them back from the recommended line and haven’t had reason to second guess that (some good discussion of this on the Helio 115 TGR thread). When I was looking at the effective edge or even just ski length in front of the boot it ended up being really close/same to the other skis in my quiver I really like.

    I ended up putting DPS Phantom on them (that’s why I skied some inbounds spring corn on them) and HOLY CRAP does it work. I was blowing past people on cat tracks on skinny carving skis even with all that extra surface touching snow.

  8. Great review, per usual.

    I’m curious about sizing for the Helio 116’s as a dedicated powder-touring ski for the French alps, the Wasatch and perhaps Japan. For reference, I’m 5’7″ and ~145#, and spend last winter touring for powder on G3 Synapse 109’s in a 180, and loved them in that length.

    I’m leaning towards the 186 but any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • I think the Helio will be great for a dedicated pow touring ski in Utah and Japan and for pow days in the alps. I think you could go either way on length. the 186 is pretty easy to ski but they provide a lot of float for their length and the 176 might be more fun for you on the uptrack and in tight trees. that said, I’d be totally content to ski this shape in 190+ at my size. best of luck. let us know how it goes.

  9. Hey, I’m trying to decide between a few pairs of skis. I’m looking for a lightweight, mid-fat touring ski, that is pretty easy-going. I’m not a hard charging skier, and I’m not an expert, so something that is forgiving is best. Based on the Buyer’s Guide, seems like, BD Helio 116, 105, or K2 Wayback 106 are great options. I ski mostly in the Cascades/volcanoes, and I’m 6’3″, 210lbs. Any help would be fantastic.

    • Hand-flexing the 18/19 and 19/20 versions, I didn’t notice any difference in flex pattern. The only change (apart from graphics) was the addition of additional rubber layers over the edges, which is very unlikely to result in a difference in flex pattern.

      • Thanks Luke. The 2019 Backcountry magazine gear guide review reports a complaint from a lighter tester that the ski was “too stiff”. I’m 75kg/175cm–similar to you? I didn’t get the sense from your review that the ski was too stiff.

        • I haven’t skied the 116 but I have spent a lot of time on the 105 which did not feel overly stiff to me. I wouldn’t recommend it to beginners, but if you have fairly good technique I don’t think the stiffness of the Helio 105 or 116 will be an issue.

  10. One more question: does the tail shape that the Helio 116 have allow backwards skiing? I can ski backwards on groomers with a very small amount of raised tail in other skis I have (eg old BD Justice), but the Helio style is very gradual without a “curl” at the end.

    • In shallow / firm snow it’s definitely doable, I just wouldn’t want to land switch after a jump or try to ski switch through any snow deeper than a few inches.

  11. Curious about Helio 116 vs Wilcat Tour 116 for a dedicated touring ski in the PNW/Brittish Columbia area. Im a little worried about a ski as light as the Helio in heavy “powder”, but interested in dropping weight as i generally tour on an old Exit World 190+Mercury+Radical FT12. Plan to pair w a hoji tour pro boot and atk fr14 binders so will drop a little weight with either of these new setups. Have a volcano ski for spring but use my Exit Worlds on sub 7000ft days.

    RE Exit worlds: Love the long turns, easy to break free. Generally find them stable enough. A little more pop could be fun esp in trees but it might be that they are old and beat like me.

    Resort skis include second gen hojis (Adding CAST binders for sidecountry) and original bibby pro 186 which are getting beat. Like both these for different reasons. Find the bibbys a bit heavy and occasionally oddly catchy one Tip or tail on the other but otherwise very fun. Hojis took some getting used to but are pretty damn fun until the pow is superdeep (tipdive).

    Appreciate any advice.

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