Monday, April 8, 2013

Black Diamond Carbon Justice Backcountry Ski Review

I'm perched on a bit of icy sastrugi at the crater rim of Mount Saint Helens. 4000 feet of variable sun warmed slop doted with chunks of ice open up beneath me. I drop in, straight line through the sastrugi and make a few quick turns to get the feel for the snow and then begin arcing big turns, confident that my skis will skim over the heavy wet snow and punch through chunks of ice.

The 175 cm Black Diamond Carbon Justice have become more then just my favorite backcountry skis, they are my favorite tools for moving around the mountains in winter. With widths of 138/111/123 mm and a weight of 8 lbs they are far from the lightest ski available, but for me they make up for their weight with the ease with which they break trail and ski difficult snow conditions and tight trees.

I bought my Justice on clearance last Spring and haven't skied my older skinier skis much since. The Justice excelled in the "Cascade Concrete" and  other variable snow conditions of spring in the Cascades including skiing from the crater rim of Mount Saint Helens. I've used them in numerous powder tours in the Montana Rockies since we moved. They have excelled in all soft snow conditions. While not a carving ski, they have also proven more then manageable in stiff wind slab and icy exit tracks.

We frequently do tours where the two of us are are taking turns breaking trail for miles on end. These are not the conditions under which speed records are set on skinny rando or xc gear. The width and rocker of the Justice helps it glide on top of the snow. Even trail breaking in the deepest snow of the season I could slide my skis along without lifting my feet; they just float up to the top of the snow.

Skiing down low angle powder is a joy. The Justice glide speedily and arc big turns through even the mellowest of meadows making it easy to find thrills without venturing onto the steeper more avalanche prone slopes. They make keeping up speed on long low angle exit skis easy.

I considered using my older skis in thin early season conditions but the added float of the Justice kept me further up out of the snow above most of the buried rocks and logs. They still had a hard year and hit enough things to scratch and scrape the bases in a number of places.  They held up well and I had no true core shots or collapsed edges. I have had some issues with the top sheet chipping and delaminating but nothing a bit of epoxy didn't fix.

The bases were a bit dry to start with and I had to be quite aggressive with waxing to keep them sliding on rough spring snow. They have been fine since I liberally coated the skis with wax and went over them multiple times with the iron over the course of a few days to ensure the wax soaked in deep.

The Justice are unbelievably fun in tight trees and buschwacky skiing. Even in heavy snow that would suck my skinny skies down and lock them into a straight line, the Justices pivot and smear on a dime.

When a chute opens up through the trees their lack of side cut and relative stiffness lets them confidently straight-line to the bottom where they can be turned into a full stop with a satisfying spray of snow. The spear like tip stabs through bumps with minimal deflection. Jumps, dropoffs and small pillows are enjoyable and easy to land even for a poor skier like me. I will never go back to a skinny ski for heavy and wet spring conditions.

I only skied the Justice in-bounds a couple of times last Spring. They are skiable on groomers but require a balanced approach with lots of skidding. For open runs and riding over cut up inbounds crud, the longer fatter 185 cm would be better. For my use (90% human powered backcountry skiing far from any ski lifts) the lighter weight and quick turning 175 cm makes more sense. For a primarily inbounds ski I would buy something stiffer with better edge hold.

BD is revamping their entire ski line with carbon and the Justice won't be coming back next year, so it is on clearance a number of places. If you buy a pair make sure you get the carbon version which has a green/white or orange/white honeycombed top sheet. The red topsheet version from older 2011 and earlier lacks carbon and is heavier and softer. Buying through the price comparison tool below will help support Hillmap.


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