Expert Review: Black Crows Navis Freebird
This review is my own honest opinion of the skis, which I bought with my own money in January 2020.
About this review This review is my own honest opinion of the skis, which I bought with my own money in January 2020.
The Black Crows Navis Freebirds are great for intermediate to advanced skiers who are looking for their first touring skis or desire one of the lightest backcountry setups possible for daily quests. Their traditional profile feels accessible to most skiers and ensures downhill performance and stability on the resort, but the uphill and out-of-bounds are where they really excel because the skis are exceptionally lightweight. Overall, these are great backcountry skis that remain versatile and excel in skiability all over the mountain!
About the gear
- Model: 2020 Black Crows Navis Freebird 102
- Size: 179cm
- Height: 5’4”
- Weight: 130 lbs
- Experience: 25 years
- When I bought these: January 2020
- Days tested: 10+
- Mount position: Manufacturer recommended
- Boots: 2018 Tecnica Zero G Guide 110
- Boot Size: 25.5
- Bindings: 2018 Dynafit TLT Speed Radical
- Where I’ve used it: Crystal Mountain, WA; Olympic National Park
- Terrain: Deep powder, wet snow, spring slush, ice
How it performs
What I was looking for
I was looking for the lightest possible touring setup that would still be versatile enough to hold its own on the downhill and under a variety of conditions. I HATE the feeling of slogging around unnecessary weight on the mountain...whether it’s on my feet, back, or anywhere in between. I hoped that with the weight savings I wouldn’t be sacrificing performance or stability and could still enjoy skiing with the Black Crows Navis Freebird on the resort.
Why I chose this gear
Weighing in at 1700g and designed as touring-specific skis, the Black Crows Navis Freebird fit my criteria for the backcountry. Paired with the right bindings, they had the potential to be the “lightest possible” setup, which is what I was looking for. Reviews and descriptions touted them as being versatile and enjoyable both on and off the resort – isn’t that perfect balance the ideal? I also had been intrigued by Black Crows for a while, as they have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years and have a solid reputation. I demoed the Black Diamond Carbon Helio 95 and Salomon QSTs in the past and didn’t love either. I’m not a fan of the taper and shape of the Black Diamond’s tips and the QSTs were too heavy so I thought I’d just go for it with the Black Crows.
What I love about it
- Edge hold: With semi-cap construction (the metal layer is visible on the ski’s sidewall), fiberglass and carbon fiber reinforcements, and a titanal plate underfoot, these skis feel stable and carvable. A classic camber profile lets me really maximize snow contact when I put them on edge and holds me steady on hardpack, ice, and other less-than-ideal snow conditions.
- Turns: Being light and poppy thanks to a paulownia/poplar core, these skis are very responsive and provide easy turn initiation. The classic camber provides spring underfoot and gives me that extra propulsion into turns. The camber does beg for traditional alpine-style turns, however…if I try to more playfully slide, swish, or wash around, I’ll definitely find the tips and tails “catching” on the snow.
- Groomers: These skis have slightly above-average groomer performance. They have that great edge hold and carvability, but their lightweighted-ness ends up compromising their stability a bit. I would not be comfortable speeding down groomers with abandon on these skis, for fear I might actually have liftoff!
- Trees: This ski’s medium (19m) turn radius combined with its light, poppy character makes it super fun in trees. I can turn quickly when the trees are dense, and it’s easy to check my speed when that unexpected branch jumps out of nowhere!
- Backcountry: Backcountry descents are what these skis were made for and where they shine! Because of their incredibly low weight, I’m able to cruise uphill with quickness and ease. Fatigue is kept to a minimum and I’m able to save my energy for the downhill. Due to their great edge hold, they are stable on the climb, even when the snow surface is dicey! Granted, I would feel more confident traversing a very icy slope if these skis had a bit more weight to them, but I wouldn’t sacrifice the weight savings for it!
- Durability: Without a doubt, these skis are durable and stand up to wear and tear. The titanal reinforcement plate provides better screw retention, the tips and tails are fully wrapped in metal, and the topsheet looks as if it’s fully integrated into the rest of the ski’s material, thus making it seem that they’re less susceptible to delamination or small nicks and dings than the average ski. On one touring mission, I lost a ski and watched it careen down the mountain and collide with a tree at high speed. Upon retrieval, there was absolutely no evidence of its adventure...I would say that’s durable!
- Weight: At the 179cm length, each ski weighs in at 1700g. Their weight is ideal for a touring ski that can still perform on the resort. I wouldn’t want it any heavier or lighter.
Issues I’ve encountered
- Speed: Though these skis can handle some speed, they’re not ideal for anyone whose goal is to hit max velocity on every run. Above a certain speed, I feel like they lose stability which I can only attribute to their light weight. Hitting a chunk of snow or a dirt clod can really ping-pong them off track.
- Powder: Powder is an issue for these skis when it’s super heavy and super deep! With a waist width of 102 mm, progressive front rocker, progressive tail, and a flared tip, these skis perform well and have solid float on an average powder day, but out in the Pacific Northwest after a big storm, they DO sink. They’re just not “enough ski” for more extreme conditions.
- Stability: Again, I’ll only say I had an issue with stability in more extreme circumstances, such as at higher speeds and when encountering unexpected conditions like pockets of chunder or sheets of ice. The best way I can describe these skis is that they’re stable until they’re not, and sometimes they feel so light that I may just fly away!
- Any workarounds? If these skis were paired with heavier bindings than mine, like a beefier tech binding or frame binding, they should feel like a stronger, more stable ski overall. I’m sure they would feel more versatile than the setup I created and would be great skis in almost any condition, especially given their versatile width and profile.
Favorite moment with this gear
My favorite moment with this gear was the very first time I put them on the skin track. They made me realize that touring doesn’t have to be a grueling slog, but that it’s in fact possible to have skis on my feet and still feel light as a feather! Prior to these skis, I had only experienced clobbered-together backcountry setups that were awkward and cumbersome...these were a dream come true and embodied the spirit of adventure!
Value for the money vs. other options
Ringing in at $830, these skis are objectively on the spendier side. However, when examined against their competition, I believe the price tag is quite appropriate. They are comparable in quality to Black Diamond Helios or Blizzard Zero G’s which both range between $800-900. Less expensive options that sit closer to $700 (due mostly to differences in construction materials and technology), like the Salomon QST or Atomic Backland, are going to offer a bit less durability and performance.
The Black Crows Navis Freebird Skis are ideal for anyone wanting a versatile, lightweight backcountry setup that doesn't feel like a compromise. A great addition to the quiver, they combine the best elements of a downhill ski with the best elements of an uphill ski to create a “green machine” that can take on the whole mountain. Just don’t ski them too aggressively or plow them into extreme conditions without fair warning, otherwise, skiers may find themselves feeling a little too free!