This year Black Diamond released the Havoc – a 120mm fat ski with a twin tip construction. We rode a 183cm pair mounted with some Fritschi Freeride touring bindings, and we dare you to find a better setup anywhere for big mountain skiers crossing over to alpine touring. With only a few small drawbacks and many, many strengths, the Havoc/Freeride combo is a setup you need to consider.
A Bit o’ Trivia
For a couple years now fat-twins have been at the forefront of every serious rider’s consciousness. The Line Mothership and the Salomon Pocket Rocket christened the fat-twin category, and were quickly followed by the K2 AK Enemy, the Rossigol Scratch BC, and many others. In 2004 there is nothing new about making a fat-twin – unless it’s the first fat-twin built from the ground up for touring and hard-core riding by a backcountry champion like Black Diamond.
Now, you may argue that Karhu released the Jak last year and K2 has the Hippie Stinx (both fat-twins marketed as backcountry tools). But truth be told, those models are essentially alpine skis with different graphics. The Jak is the same design as the Mothership (both the Mothership and the Jak were built from the same design created by French ski designer François Sylvain, formerly of Geze binding fame), and the Hippie Stinx is basically the Seth Pistol with different paint.
Black Diamond, on the other hand, has looked at the current technology and used different ideas to put together a fat-twin touring ski from the ground up. BD took some of the Torsion Bow technology from its popular Crossbow tele/AT ski and modified it into X-shaped torsion bars in front of and behind the binding area called a 3-D Densolite core. This makes for a lightweight ski that is rock-solid torsionally, making it a surprisingly great performer on harder snow. If you’ve ever had to ski a wind-scoured slope to avoid avalanche danger on the leeward side, you’ll definitely appreciate this bit of technology. But then again, you wouldn’t expect less than the best in technology from an Austrian-built ski that comes out of the same factory where Atomic makes its world-class race skis.
The great hard-snow performance surprised our testers because the ski has an extraordinarily lightweight feel while touring and while airborne. We tried the ski on hard, early-season snow in Colorado and we rode it in the deep, light snow that dumped on the Wasatch during December and January. There is no condition where this ski doesn’t shine.
Black Diamond Havoc Dimensions
In addition to the torsional rigidity and relative light weight of this fat-twin, the Havoc has another endearing quality. Its width dimensions are pretty close to ideal: 120mm tip/88mm waist/113mm tail on our 183cm model. Some might argue that 88mm underfoot is too narrow to be called a serious fat ski, but do you really need a super-fat, Alaska-only ski like the K2 Kahuna, Line Prophet, or the fabled Rossi B4? I would compare it to cars in this way: Sure, the original Hummer can do more than the H2 in hairy situations. But how often are you REALLY in those types of over-the-top situations? Wouldn’t you rather be rocking an H2 as your everyday ride? You’d be more comfortable the majority of the time, while sacrificing only a little of the high-end performance. The Black Diamond Havoc is the H2 of touring skis. It uses less fuel (sweat) to haul the thing around, and it can rip through almost any realistic situation you may get yourself into.
“The Havoc’s wide underfoot platform (88-mm waist) not only stomps out big-air landings, but ensures that nothing moves this baby off-mark in choppy crud.” -Black Diamond website, www.bdel.com
This statement is absolutely true, but it would be a crime not to mention how well the Havoc carves, too. Its relatively stiff tip initiates the turn aggressively and holds a smooth edge throughout, making it a blast for those on-piste runs we inevitably take while getting to and from many backcountry gates. The Havoc can lay trenches with the best of them.
For as solid a ski as the Havoc is, there are two things I would have changed about the model we had for review. First of all, our model had the Fritschi Freerides mounted toe-center which for me is way too far back on the ski. It gave the ski an “always in the backseat” sort of ride. And though turns initiated aggressively, the mounting style left the end of the turn lacking energy – it didn’t rebound readily into the next turn. Now, where the binding is mounted on the ski is absolutely a matter of personal preference. But after riding traditional twin-tips for years, which are usually mounted almost exactly boot-center to ski-center, we would definitely recommend mounting your bindings farther forward than toe-center to get a stronger finish to your turns and make riding switch a lot more comfortable. I found it very tough to land switch with much confidence when there’s not an equal amount of a tail behind the heel-piece.
Secondly, the graphics are definitely lackluster. Small thing, I know (shows you how deep you have to dig to find something wrong with this ski). But with such a sick, ground-breaking ski it’s frankly a shame to clothe it in the same, indistinguishable computer blah that every other ski on the wall has. This ski needs to pop in a strong way. I’m not talking bright orange. But I am saying it would communicate more clearness of purpose, taste, and uniqueness (because it is a unique ski) if it were a solid color. Or maybe a landscape image stretched across both skis. Or maybe even a faux-wood finish like the old Authier skis. I’m no designer, but I think a ski as innovative as the Havoc is in the AT market should distinguish itself from the rest in image as well as performance.
Or you could just slap a bunch of stickers on it after you buy it. It’s not like you’ll notice while you’re ripping big turns down a few hundred vert in the Utah backcountry. And that’s where the Havoc shows its true colors, anyway.
Fritschi Freeride Touring Binding
Mounted on these killer Havocs were a pair of Fritschi Freerides. If you don’t already know, in the course of just a few short seasons the Freeride has gained the reputation of being the ultimate alpine touring binding for hard-core riders. The “best-performing AT binding in the world,” according to Black Diamond (US importer of the Freeride).
“Why all the stoke?” you may ask. Well, here’s the breakdown – DIN up to 12 for both the toe and the heel, a light weight (compared to regular alpine bindings) of just 2.12kg per pair, and an ease of use that is almost foolproof. The idea is that you have a binding that is nice and lightweight, has a 4-stage elevator for climbing and an easy-to-use step-in design, but is just as reliable for retention and release as a regular alpine binding. So….why would you still be riding alpine bindings? If you never plan on going into the backcountry at all, then you’re probably okay with regular alpine bindings. But if you never plan on going into the backcountry at all, why are you reading this gear review?? And even if you go touring only a couple times a year, you’ll still appreciate the slim profile and the reliable alpine-style release system of the Freeride.
The main worry of many riders has been that the Freeride’s toe piece wouldn’t release as reliably as a standard alpine binding, but I have put my meniscus on the line to test that theory for all our loyal readers. Yes, yours truly was ripping down a nice glade with fresh Wasatch pow when my left ski went to the left side of a small aspen. In a brief moment I thought the end of my season had come, but then – at just the right moment – I felt the toe piece release as smoothly as any alpine binding I’ve ever ridden. So, while this binding is definitely not for racing or hitting the park regularly, you can still be confident in it protecting your knees almost flawlessly when you need it most.
One thing to note when in climbing mode: The Freeride sports only a single pivot point under the toe for climbing, so your gait is about as fluid as a door hinge. Frankly, this is a good thing on the steeps, because it keeps the pivot point right where it needs to be throughout the stride. This is an advantage over a design like the much-hyped Naxo touring binding, which has a dual pivot point. The dual pivot point makes the Naxo much smoother than the Freeride on average-angle slopes but slightly more difficult to manage on angles over 35 degrees. This is because the main pivot point is about 10cm farther in front of the boot toe than the Freeride. That extra 10cm slightly reduces your leverage while climbing steep slopes, and makes kick-turns more of a balancing act than with the Freerides. Another advantage of the Freeride over the Naxo is that the Freeride is a few grams lighter – and when you’re hauling your own butt up a few thousand vertical feet of the Rocky Mountains, that makes bit of a difference.
However, there are two weak spots with the Freeride. First is its lock-down mechanism. It is made of what appears to be a relatively soft plastic, making it vulnerable to breakage under heavy stresses. I was able to do lincolns and front flips without much worry, but I certainly would not be trying cork 7’s or misties regularly on the Freerides for fear of blowing them up. And if you’ve skinned into Grizzly Gulch to hit a 90-foot gap jump, the last thing you want to do is have binding failure and have to post-hole your way through avalanche terrain to make it back to the car.
Secondly, the cross-bar that connects the toe piece to the heel piece is made of aluminum. This is fine for regular riding, but there are definitely situations where it’s a downfall. When stomping big airs to pow most skis flex out their camber completely so that for a brief moment the ski looks like a Volant Spatula. When this happens there is definite binding pinch between the toe and the heel, and all the weight of the skier presses down hard on the center of that single aluminum cross bar and it can be bent or deformed. It sounds amazing, but there are legitimate stories of this happening on airs as small as 20 feet. And then you’re left with no option but to replace the binding. Currently I know of no solid AT binding that has solved this problem. My proposal to Fritschi for the next generation is the following: Make a new model, called the Freeride Ti or something, with a titanium crossbar that can withstand the flex and snap back to form. Or, at the very least, make the crossbar a replaceable piece that you can buy separately and carry in your pack as a spare, so you can fix your binding in the field should something like this happen to you.
The Bottom Line
The Black Diamond Havoc mounted with some Fritschi Freerides is an almost unbeatable combination for big mountain skiers looking to cross over to alpine touring. The Havoc is a lightweight and versatile fat-twin with bomber edgehold and real carving skills, too. And the Fritschi Freeride is fast becoming a fixture on at least one pair of skis for every serious skier. Get out there on this gear and you can’t help but start thinking of all the possibilities there are outside of the zoos we call ski resorts. Enjoy!