Ski: 2019-2020 Blizzard Black Pearl 98, 166 cm
Available Lengths: 152, 159, 166, 173 cm
Blister’s Measured Tip-to-Tail Length: 163.8 cm
Stated Weight per Ski: 1650 grams ± 50 grams
Blister’s Measured Weight per Ski: 1635 & 1646 grams
Stated Dimensions: 135-98-119 mm
Blister’s Measured Dimensions: 135-97.5-118.5 mm
Stated Sidecut Radius: 15 meters
Tip & Tail Splay (ski decambered): 61 mm / 6 mm
Traditional Camber Underfoot: ~2 mm
Core: Poplar/Beech + Carbon Fiber Sheet + Fiberglass Laminate
Factory Recommended Mount Point: -10.6 cm from center; 71.3 cm from tail
Boots / Bindings: Scarpa Freedom, Lange Rx 100 LV / Marker Griffon
Days Skied: ~15
Test Locations: Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain, & Breckenridge, CO; Ski Santa Fe, NM
[Note: Our review was conducted on the 17/18 Black Pearl 98, which was not changed for 18/19 or 19/20, apart from graphics.]
For the 17/18 season, Blizzard updated all of their women’s-specific freeride skis. They introduced the new Sheeva 10 and 11, which are designed with fairly playful shapes and flexes, and they also came out with the Black Pearl 78, 88, and 98, which are more directional.
The new Black Pearl series is based on last year’s Black Pearl, which we recently learned was the best selling ski in North America last year (and returns for the 17/18 and 18/19 seasons as the “Black Pearl 88”).
The new series uses the women’s-specific construction from last year’s Black Pearl that’s intended to lighten up the ski while maintaining downhill performance.
Here is what Blizzard says about the Black Pearl 98 (which comes back unchanged for 18/19):
“If you are looking for a ski that can float through powder, bust through chopped up crud or carve on the groomers, the all-new Black Pearl 98 is the ski for you. At 98mm underfoot and featuring Carbon Flipcore W.S.D., the Black Pearl 98 is light and easy with exceptional versatility and performance for any terrain or snow condition you can throw at it.”
Blizzard is clearly going for the one-ski-quiver category here, so my primary questions coming into the review revolved around how well this ski would perform in a broad range of conditions, and if it would seem like more of an on- or off-piste all-mountain ski.
Here’s how Jonathan Ellsworth summed up the flex pattern of the Black Pearl 98:
Behind the Heel Piece: 9
Compared to Blizzard’s new Sheeva 10, the Black Pearl 98 is a bit stiffer throughout, which isn’t surprising given that Blizzard is promoting the Sheeva 10 as more of a fun, playful ski. Compared to the Head Wild Joy, the Black Pearl 98 is noticeably softer in the tips, shovels, and tails, but the Wild Joy is also one of the stiffest skis (men’s or women’s) that we’ve reviewed.
I tend to ski hard pack and groomed corduroy fast and aggressively. With a wider waist (than more piste-oriented skis) and new lightweight construction, I was curious to see how well the Black Pearl 98 held an edge on firm snow, and how energetic and quick it would feel.
On groomers, I found the ski incredibly responsive and precise. It was quick to lay over on edge and hold it throughout the turn. Even with its short 15 m sidecut radius, I was able to open up my turns and carve large arcs at high speeds. Apart from the titanal binding plate underfoot, the Black Pearl 98 does not have any metal, so I was pretty impressed with its stability at speed.
I felt that the Black Pearl 98 was equally as stable and comfortable at lower speeds on more moderate terrain as it was at higher speeds and on steeper terrain — a trait that reminded me of the Volkl Aura. With the ability to make small and large turns, and do so at both low and high speeds, I think the Black Pearl 98 will accommodate a wide range of skier abilities.
I spent much of my time on the Black Pearl 98 skiing large, steep, and firm moguls. Despite its fairly wide tips, I didn’t have a problem initiating precise turns and taking a tight line through moguls on the Black Pearl 98, which I think is partially due to the overall low weight of the ski.
I skied the 166 cm Black Pearl 98 and felt the length was maybe just a little too long for me in moguls (which I did not feel was the case on more open or groomed terrain). If I was going to exclusively ski moguls, I would have opted for the 159 cm length (I am only 5’1” — and that is on a tall day). For an all mountain ski, I usually prefer a ski that is between 156-164 cm. That said, the 166 cm Black Pearl 98 still felt more maneuverable in bumps than the 168 cm Head Wild Joy and than the wider 162 cm Line Pandora 110.
Crud / Variable Snow
I spent a fair amount of time skiing the Black Pearl 98 last spring when the freeze / thaw cycle made for pretty variable snow conditions. In tight trees where the snow alternated between soft and hard crud, I was again impressed with the maneuverability of the Black Pearl 98. At the same time, the ski still felt very supportive, especially for its 98 mm waist — it actually felt pretty similar to the 104mm-underfoot Volkl Aura in terms of stability in soft crud. Even in harder crud, the Black pearl 98’s wide tips did not feel cumbersome or hooky.
During my time on it so far, I’ve found the Blizzard Black Pearl 98 to be a very versatile all-mountain ski. It has a high top end and is surprisingly stable given its low weight, but at the same time, it is complaint at lower speeds and at making smaller turn shapes.
Overall, the Black Pearl 98 reminded me of a lighter Volkl Aura, a ski that several Blister reviewers have very much enjoyed. So, if you’re looking for an all-mountain ski that can handle a variety of conditions and skiing styles, the Black Pearl 98 is definitely worth a look.
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