Whippet Good

This hybrid between an ice axe and a ski pole from Black Diamond's makes moving in the mountains easier

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Details Details

Price: $139.95

Lengths: 100-140 cm

Weight: 1 pound, 1 ounce

Features: + Stainless steel pick with canard wing built into a dual-density touring grip

+ 100 mm (4 in) Powder Basket

+ Dual FlickLock Pro adjustability and security

+ Compacts down to 68 cm (26.75 in)

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Halfway up an imposing bootpack—skis on my back, ski crampons on my feet, and whippet in hand—I took a moment to look around. Below, the landscape dropped a few thousand vert into a lake basin. Above, my ski partners were planting a few hundred more steps toward the summit. When I’m this exposed on the mountains without a rope, my typical state of mind is one of mild panic. But today, whippet secure in the snow, I felt calm enough to grab my phone out of my pocket with my free hand and take a selfie. The difference in mindset came from a feeling of security, and that in turn came from the tools on my feet and in my hand.

A whippet is a hybrid between an ice axe and a ski pole. It’s a great tool for ski mountaineers, providing extra security in a more efficient form. But the first thing to know about a whippet: It’s not going to do much for you in a terrifying, high-speed slide down a mountain. In other words, if you fall, don’t rely on your whippet to save your life.

Rather, a whippet is something to keep you from falling in the first place, or to catch you before you start sliding for life. It’s a tool to help you with balance and provide a more secure attachment to the snow, especially, say, on firm bootpacks in the Eastern Sierra. Or couloirs in Chamonix. Like ski crampons, a whippet is one of those things you don’t realize you need until you’re halfway up a mountain and cursing yourself for not having one. Also like ski crampons, because it prevents slippage and adds peace of mind, a whippet helps conserve energy and enables you to move more efficiently in the mountains. If, like me, you are more skier than mountaineer, enjoy hiking up a steep bootpack to ski something cool, but don’t need a rope, I would highly recommend adding a whippet to your backcountry kit. It’s another point of attachment to the snow.

Black Diamond Carbon Whippet

I chose the Black Diamond carbon whippet ski pole. It weighs hardly more than a pound, which eases the one-ski-pole-is-heavier-than-the-other quandary. (I only use one whippet and swap it to the uphill hand on kickturns—blade pointing toward the snow, not the body.)

The pick is stainless steel—so watch where you’re pointing that thing. The whippet comes with a cap to cover the blade when you aren’t using it, wide powder baskets, and a rubber hand grip to give you options on where to hold the pole, depending on the angle between the slope and you.

I used the carbon pole, and was stoked on it. That said, I’d probably recommend the aluminum two-piece whippet over the carbon version. The carbon is a three-piece pole and more useful to splitboarders because it compacts to a size that could easily be stashed in a backpack. The carbon weighs two ounces more than the aluminum (probably because of the extra third). And you’ll save forty bucks. Either way, Black Diamond’s Fliplock design ensures the whippet will stay locked in the length you set. (If the pole slips, you can easily tighten the Fliplocks with the turn of a tiny screw inside the plastic flap.).

Black Diamond sells them as a single, and if you swap them between hands, you really only need one.

(Other uses for whippets: grim reaper shadow cartoons; can opening; cutting salami and cheese.)