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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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