With the new Recon skis, Black Diamond doubles down on their Helio Line

Black Diamond released their carbon Helio skis in 2016 and, since then, the award-winning line has undergone changes to become lighter and stronger. While the traditional Helio line, updated every two years, returns unchanged this season, Black Diamond debuts another set of offerings beneath the Helio name dubbed Helio Recon, a re-envisioning of the Route skis that first appeared in 2017.

Why the reshuffling of the lineup? Black Diamond believes there’s an upwelling of skiers interested in lightweight backcountry skis that don’t compromise durability. So, like Black Diamond did last year with the carbon and balsa/flax-cored Helios, the new Helio Recon models include a layer of rubber sandwiched at the ski’s edge beneath the mount point and in the tip and tail to provide a more dampened feel. Beyond that, they’re identical to past Route models, with fiberglass construction around a poplar core. 

Black Diamond’s original Helio skis marked a significant decision by the Salt Lake City, Utah-based company to move ski production from China—where it had been making skis for 12 years—to the Blizzard factory in Mittersill, Austria. This switch came on the heels of purported challenges the company faced with production quality in their Chinese facility. With the transition to the Blizzard factory, a location that’s been building high-end skis for half a century, Black Diamond hoped to improve quality and develop opportunities to introduce new technologies into their lineup.

The original Helio models appeared in four waist widths—88, 95, 105 and 116 mm underfoot—and several models appeared in the 2017 and 2018 Gear Guides. Last year’s redesigned Helio 116 earned our Editors’ Choice Award and, this year, both carbon Helio and Recon models podiumed. 

The Helio Recon skis are available this winter in 88, 95 and 105 mm widths, and many testers at the 2020 Gear Test Week gravitated toward this fiberglass and poplar layup over the lighter carbon models. This layup stood out best in the 88 mm width, earning the Helio Recon 88 an Editors’ Choice Award—even in the feet of fresh snow that fell at March’s Gear Test Week. 

“Wow, the best ski under 90 mm I’ve ever skied,” one tester raved, continuing, “You can ski the soft stuff, then jump onto the hard snow and it gets even better.” Added another, “This is one badass little ski; super friendly with turns of all sizes. Effortless turn initiation and plenty of pop exiting a turn…definitely a quiver ski.”

In a 178 cm length, the weight difference between the Helio Recon 88 and carbon Helio 88 is 1 lb. per pair, a difference that can easily be balanced with a pack’s metaphorical budget. To further justify the weight is the price tag of the skis in the Helio Recon line, which run between $600 and $700. It’s carbon siblings, on the other hand, cost $800 to $950.

Some testers were unfazed by an upsell and preferred the traditional carbon Helio models, with the slightly wider 95 taking home an Editors’ Choice Award. Said one tester, “The best of the Black Diamond Helio line, these skis hit the sweet spot of stiffness, light weight and durability.” And while the featherweight carbon Helio skis will retain their place in the backcountry lineup, the sturdier poplar and fiberglass models might suggest that modest weight compromises are on the horizon for manufacturers and tourers alike. If so, the Helio Recon skis could lead the way.

Black Diamond Equipment Helio Recon 88
$630 | blackdiamondequipment.com | Dimensions: 123/88/112 |Weight: 6.9 lbs. (178) | Lengths: 158, 168, 178

Black Diamond Equipment Helio 95
$850 | blackdiamondequipment.com |Dimensions: 123/95/113 | Weight: 6.1 lbs. (173) | Lengths: 163, 173, 183

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