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Doing the Pole Dance

Comparing two new lightweight, fixed-length poles for the backcountry

Details Details

Price: $Helio: $299.95; Furtis: $159.95

Sizes: Helio: 115-135cm; Furtis: 110-135cm

Weight: Helio: 256 grams; Furtis: 250 grams

Materials: Helio: Inflation-molded, single-piece carbon fiber construction. Furtis: 22mm diameter composite shaft, 33cm long foam eva grip

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Black Diamond’s new Helio on the left, and the Black Crows Furtis. PHOTOS: Erme Catino

For 13 years I've only used adjustable poles, various ones at that. From the early Life-Links, to Black Diamond probe poles, to a couple ski-branded adjustable ones. And while they all worked, one thing I found for certain is adjustable poles eventually fail. After breaking another pair last season while on a quick tour, I realized it was time for a fixed-length pole since I rarely adjusted my heights. Luckily, lightweight and bomber fixed-length poles are starting to appear, most notably the Black Crows Furtis and, new for this season, Black Diamond's Helio pole.

Last winter I purchased the Black Crows Furtis. The simplicity and Euro design immediately caught my attention while on a trip to Engelberg, Switzerland. Available in sizes from 110-135cm, the Furtis is an entirely composite pole weighing in around 250 grams. Yet its weight isn't what sold me. While it's great for touring, the shaft is burly—22mm in diameter, with an extra long foam grip that has no pre-formed handle. This design yielded perfection on adjusting grips on the skin track, and its aluminum cap allowed for quick pole probe pits in addition to being useful for stabbing them into the snow—using them to hoist up a steep pitch or cornice. The atypical handle felt freeing and seemed more natural when dealing with steep skiing. Not once did I miss my adjustable poles, even after a couple long skates on the flats. And at that point, adjustable poles and I were officially broken up.

This year Black Diamond is debuting its Helio Pole. Following its namesake, it weighs just 256 grams. Utilizing an inflation molding process, the pole is constructed from one piece of carbon, making it incredibly light and strong, and a bit pricey. These poles are minimalist; designed for skiers looking for uber light poles with no frills. The grip is integrated into the top, and also has a simple wrist strap and a touring ring for adjusting hand positions while skinning. On the hill, the Helio felt super light, yet with enough substance to know something was there. Its lack of foam handle made them a bit slippery for flicking climbing bars on touring bindings, but the stiffened basket is designed for that. The Helio is labeled as the lightest ski pole on the market, but when compared to the listed weight from Black Crows, they're nearly identical. Though while skiing the Helio felt a bit lighter.

The Black Crows Furtis foam grip is long and excellent for touring.
The Black Crows Furtis foam grip is long and excellent for touring.

The Furtis and Helio both offer stable and lightweight options for backcountry skiers, but the two cater toward different tastes. The Furtis' blend of Euro style gives it a fresh look. The removable pole strap attracts ski mountaineers yet the new-school handle and rotating basket may be something that deters older skiers. On the flip side, the Helio's futuristic look had a more traditional feel, yet its straps couldn't be removed. Both offered the ability to change hand positions on the pole while skinning, and both seem to respond to stress well—bending with strain yet resistant to snapping. However, skiers beware, no composite poles are indestructible, especially if the carbon gets splintered—so avoid clicking these against your metal ski edges.

Meanwhile, the grip on the all-carbon Black Diamond Helio is fully integrated.
Meanwhile, the grip on the all-carbon Black Diamond Helio is fully integrated.