Ski: 2019-2020 Black Crows Corvus Freebird, 183.3 cm
Available Lengths (cm): 175.1, 183.3
Actual Tip-to-Tail Length (straight tape pull): 181.5 cm
Stated Dimensions (183.3 cm): 139-109-122 mm
Blister’s Measured Dimensions: 138-108-121 mm
Stated Weight per Ski (175 cm model): ~1800 g
Blister’s Measured Weight per Ski (183 cm model): 1825 & 1904 grams
Stated Sidecut Radius (183.3 cm): 21 meters
Tip / Tail Spay (ski decambered): 63 mm / 23 mm
Traditional Camber Underfoot: ~6 mm
Core Construction: Paulownia/Poplar + Carbon Fiber & Fiberglass Laminate
Factory Recommended Line: -10.55 from center; 80.2 cm from tail
Mount Location: Recommended Line
Boots / Bindings: Tecnica Cochise Pro / Marker Kingpin 13
Test Locations: New Mexico, Chamonix, Colorado
Days Skied – Corvus: ~35; Corvus Freebird: ~15
Reviewer: 6’0″, 170-175 lbs
[Note: Our review was conducted on the 16/17 Corvus Freebird, which was not changed for 17/18, 18/19, or 19/20, apart from graphics.]
The Corvus is Black Crows’ directional, all-mountain freeride ski, designed to be powerful and versatile in all snow conditions. Two years ago, Black Crows decided to offer the “Corvus Freebird,” a lighter touring edition of the Corvus. Julien Regnier kept the shape of the Corvus, with a modified tail to easily mate to skins. (See Jonathan Ellsworth’s First Look at the Corvus Freebird.)
I’ve always valued a ski’s performance in steeps and at speed more than its weight, but I’ve also been spending at least as much time touring as I so skiing inbounds, and I liked the idea of making the up a little easier. So which would be the better choice — the Corvus, or the Corvus Freebird?
I ended up putting a good number of days in on both skis this past season, and here’s what I found…
Back when I was still debating which ski to go with, I began leaning toward the Freebird. But I then came across a Black Crows video staring Julien Regnier and a dude dressed in a white crow suit (not black??) reminiscent of scene out of Eyes Wide Shut, describing how they reduced weight from the Corvus: thin the bases and edges. So given that we run over a lot of rocks around Taos, I went with the regular version of the Corvus, mounted them up with Marker Kingpin 13s, and sentenced my touring partners to wait for me while skinning the backcountry on a heavier ski.
The first time out on the Corvus did not disappoint (well, except for my friends, who had to wait for me).
Immediately upon dropping on to our local quick lap that was pasted with 8-10” of fresh, I was treated to high-speed pow skiing, and could effortlessly transition between GS and slarved turns with just a slight shift in stance.
I spent a good portion of the 15/16 season on the Corvus / Kingpin setup, and was impressed by this touring setup’s versatility and ability to charge.
Note: Corvus + Kingpin 13 vs. Corvus + Look Pivot 14 WTR
For the record, it wasn’t till later that I realized that I’d been handcuffing the regular Corvus by putting an AT binding on them, even the best-skiing AT binding, the Kingpin 13.
I’ll fast-forward here a bit to the day when Jonathan sent me the Corvus Freebird to review. I took the Kingpins off the regular Corvus and put them on the Freebird, then mounted a Look Pivot 14 WTR binding to the Corvus. The Pivot 14 completely changed the behavior of the Corvus. While demanding a lot of control and input when mounted with AT bindings, the Looks provided the leverage needed to really let the Corvus flourish, and provided the power transmission to drive the ski in any condition. It’s worth keeping this in mind: we still love the Kingpin, but in terms of pure downhill performance, it is not the same as an excellent dedicated-alpine binding.
On the Pivot 14s, the Corvus still needed to be skied with power (even with the added leverage), but you are rewarded with even more stability at speed through big turns. In conversation with guides who have a quiver of Black Crows skis, they noted that they steer clients toward the Anima or Nocta, since the softer character of those two skis makes them as versatile as the Corvus in deep snow, but more forgiving for those who aren’t into the “game on always” mindset. Yet for a ski that is very good at high speed, the Corvus has a large sweet spot, and is only intolerant of full-on backseat skiing.
For the record, I don’t regret having mounted the regular Corvus with AT bindings. On Kingpins, I was still able to ski hard on the Corvus through inbounds and backcountry crap snow. But with a pair of Pivot 14 WTRs, I would say that the Corvus is as good as any comparable ski that I’ve been on (e.g., Dynastar Pro Rider XXL, Scott Punisher 110).
While it shares DNA with the Corvus, the Corvus Freebird is a different beast. It is billed as a powerful touring ski without compromise, but curiously, the prescribed conditions for its use are “perfect winter conditions.” As you will read later on, I think you can ditch the word, “perfect.” The Freebird is a relatively lightweight touring ski that is not twitchy and holds up pretty well at speed.
I skied the Freebird inbounds at Taos and in the surrounding backcountry, toured on them on Red Mountain Pass, Colorado, and took them to Chamonix last April to use as my single ski quiver, where they saw a wide variety of conditions.
Starting them out inbounds on hard bumps with some dust on top allowed me to immediately test the limits of this light ski in the conditions that it was not designed for. Initial impressions were positive for a touring ski with AT bindings, on the aforementioned dust on month-old bumps. The ski tracked surprisingly well for its weight, the tip rocker kept the skis from getting hung up, and the flex of the shovels allowed me to drive the shovels without overflexing them.
On smooth groomers, I was able to put the ski on edge at high speeds, showing off pinkie’s stability and responsiveness when under load. The Freebird allowed for a rapid transition from edge to edge, the weight reduction made them nimble between turns, and the skis felt much more comfortable when driving the shovels hard. It will be a recurring theme of this review: neither the Corvus nor the Corvus Freebird want to be skied from the backseat.
The next night’s storm provided us with a decent helping of fresh in the backcountry, offering a chance to get a feel for the Freebird in soft, consistent snow. Dropping into a chute that had been filled with 6 inches of untracked, thick snow, I found the ski to be stable and the tip rocker to be enough to allow me to comfortably drive the ski in a forward position without worrying about the tip diving. While the amount of tail rocker / splay is not extreme, it was enough to allow me to break the ski out of a carve and shed speed. I repeatedly found this to be true — both in deeper, cold snow as well as hot pow.
NEXT: Crust / Zipper Crust, Etc.
Crust / Zipper Crust
The biggest surprise for me was the Corvus Freebird’s performance on zipper crust. I had already experienced the regular Corvus’ ability to deal with these dreaded conditions in a stellar manner, and was expecting much less from it’s lighter twin. However, when skied aggressively, the Freebird cut through the crust while not getting hung up between turns. It was impressive for a lighter ski. The 109 mm waist really hits a sweet spot for me; it’s large enough to cover deep days, and especially with the reduced swing weight of the Freebird, it is nimble enough for firmer conditions that require a quick, reactive style of skiing.
More re: Less-Than-Perfect Conditions
The reduced weight of the ski did become apparent in skied-out hot pow; it was a chore to push through the thick snow, and I had to fight getting knocked into the backseat.
I also had the “pleasure” of skiing these in a couloir where the top two-thirds were covered by awful, re-frozen slough-slide debris that manifested itself as frozen ridges, chicken heads, and death cookies, all pulling and pushing each ski in random directions. I can’t judge the Freebird’s performance negatively in these conditions, since any ski would have had trouble. And what I can say is that their quickness allowed for rapid recovery after being unexpectedly rerouted from my intended line.
In short, even when I was entering steep glacier runs in bony conditions, I was never concerned about the ski. The ski’s edge hold inspired confidence, so long as I concentrated and didn’t get knocked back. From experience, I can say that from the back seat position, Freebird’s edge hold becomes terrifying, locking the ski into whatever direction you are heading until you regain the center. You can reduce this effect by putting a less aggressive base bevel on the tails, or by simply not getting knocked back.
Weight / Durability — 183 cm Corvus vs. 183 cm Corvus Freebird
Black Crows’ use of lighter weight materials did not affect the Corvus’ robustness nearly to the degree that I expected. I started riding the Freebird at the end of the season with only a couple days inbounds, so they saw mostly backcountry conditions, which I generally find to be easier on bases. They did, however, still experience their share of rocks and sharks when skiing in the wild, but came away in good condition. I had a couple of gut-wrenching impacts that I was sure had left permanent damage to both the edge and the base (good luck finding pink p-tex), and each time I breathed a sigh of relief when I inspected the bottoms to find non-catastrophic results.
Going Up: Corvus Freebird + Black Crows Pellis Skins
I loved this combination. If you are debating whether to purchase the Pellis pre-cut skins from Black Crows, I suggest that you do. The perfect cut of the skin provides maximum traction, and the recessed cut in the Freebird’s tail matches the tail-clip perfectly, creating a satisfying snap when the skin is mounted.
The tail splay of the standard and Freebird Corvus is modest, just enough to allow them to break free when needed (the standard Corvus has a bit more tail splay.) And this minimal tail rocker is nice when skinning. The increased contact and pressure of the tail skins improves grip, while the lack of rise and the tucked-away tail clip make kick turns almost pleasurable. Even for hip-flexor-pain-inducing kick turns approaching 120°, being able to slip the tail under the weighted ski significantly eases the difficulty.
Other Differences: Corvus vs. Corvus Freebird
(1) They are light. Not Goode super-light, but for a 109mm-underfoot ski with a great medium to stiff flex, and especially after riding their heavier relative for the season, it is a noticeably light ski. I was reluctant to be excited by this, as I hadn’t until now been on a “light” ski that I liked. But the Freebird’s combination of uphill and downhill performance have brought me around. Is it as capable as the regular Corvus in sub-optimal and nasty conditions? No. But for uphill and downhill performance, the Freebird strikes a balance that I am very happy with.
(2) The Freebird is awesomely pink. Top sheet and base are as pink as you can get, so you better be able to pull it off.
Who’s It For / What’s It For?
If you need a one ski quiver on a trip where you will split your time inbounds and out, these are outstanding. If you tour and climb in order to ski burly lines (while not necessarily seeking out the largest drops), this ski is an excellent choice. Even if you split your time inbounds and out but aren’t trying to rip bumps lines every lap, the touring version of the Corvus will likely satisfy many advanced and expert skiers, and lighter skiers might prefer the Freebird to the regular Corvus for their dedicated inbounds setup (with an alpine binding).
If you aren’t a lighter skier or you aren’t needing a touring setup, I for one would recommend the regular Corvus. As an all-around resort ski, it is versatile and capable. If you are willing to put in the effort, the Corvus will handle just about anything you throw at it.
When I was looking for one ski to take on a trip to Chamonix that would split time between the resort and touring,the Corvus Freebird proved to be the right choice. It ended up on pretty much every type of snow over the course of my trip, and as a one quiver ski for splitting time between touring, ski mountaineering, and chair laps, I found the Corvus Freebird to be a good balance of up and down capability.
NEXT: Rocker Profile Pics
(Click on images to expand)