Ski: 2018-2019 Black Crows Orb, 178.3 cm
Available Lengths: 166.4, 172.1, 178.3, 183.4 cm
Blister’s Measured Tip-to-Tail Length: 177.9 cm
Stated Weight per Ski: 1875 grams
Blister’s Measured Weight per Ski: 1839 & 1842 grams
Stated Dimensions: 122-91-109 mm
Blister’s Measured Dimensions: 122-91-109 mm
Stated Sidecut Radius: 18 meters (all widths)
Tip & Tail Splay (ski decambered): 58 mm / 17 mm
Traditional Camber Underfoot: 4 mm
Core: Poplar + Titanal (2-layers) + Fiberglass Laminate
Factory Recommended Mount Point: -9.85 cm from center; 79.1 cm from tail
Boots / Bindings: Dalbello Lupo SP ID / Tyrolia AAAttack
Days Skied (Total): 7
Test Location: Taos Ski Valley, NM; Arapahoe Basin, CO[Note: Our review was conducted on the 16/17 Orb, which is unchanged for the 17/18 and 18/19 seasons, except for the graphics.]
Black Crows continues to be one of the hottest brands in skiing, and in addition to their big-mountain and freestyle skis, they also make some interesting, narrower, more piste-oriented skis. The Orb is the widest offering in their 3-ski “Resort” line, and they claim that, “with the addition of two titanal plates, this ski has evolved into a real beast. The Orb has great pop and is full of life.”
For more on the history of Black Crows, check out our first conversation with their co-founder, Camille Jaccoux, and head ski designer, Julien Regnier. And if you’re interested in Black Crows’ new 18/19 skis, you should listen to our second conversation, where we go over the whole 18/19 lineup.
But getting back to the Orb, our main questions coming into this review were (a) how piste-oriented the Orb would feel compared to the other ~90mm-underfoot skis we’ve been testing, and (b) how it would handle more variable conditions.
Luke Koppa and I both put time on the Orb last season, so here we’ll offer our impressions.
Here’s how we’d characterize the flex pattern of the Orb:
In Front of Toe Piece: 8-9
Behind the Heel piece: 9-8
The Orb certainly isn’t a noodle, but it has a very accessible and round flex pattern. Every bit of the ski can be flexed and accessed when needed, but it’s still quite supportive in its midsection.
Weight & Comparisons
The Orb’s weight is one thing that stood out to us right away, so let’s first put it into perspective.
For reference, here are a few of our measured weights (per ski, in grams) for some notable skis. As always, keep in mind the length differences to keep things apples-to-apples.
1585 & 1586 Head Kore 93, 180 cm
1839 & 1842 Black Crows Orb, 178.3 cm
1864 & 1882 Armada ARV 89Ti, 187 cm
1869 & 1894 Atomic Vantage 90 Ti, 184 cm
1920 & 1940 Volkl Kendo, 177 cm
1931 & 1932 DPS Foundation Cassiar 94, 185 cm
1943 & 1968 Liberty VMT 92, 186 cm
1996 & 2048 Head Monster 88, 177 cm (17/18)
1997 & 2001 Blizzard Brahma, 180 cm (18/19)
2049 & 2065 Volkl Mantra M5, 177 cm
2062 & 2063 Rossignol Experience 94 Ti, 187 cm
2114 & 2133 Nordica Enforcer 93, 185 cm
2171 & 2176 Head Monster 88, 184 cm (18/19)
The Orb comes in at just under ~1,850 grams, which is fairly light. But it’s important to keep in mind that this is a 178 cm ski with a 91 mm waist, which is narrower and / or shorter than most of the other skis listed above. But with that in mind, the Orb is still fairly light for an all-mountain ski with two sheets of metal in it. Which takes us to our next section:
Suspension / Damping
While 1,850 grams might seem quite light, from a suspension / damping perspective, the Orb feels a bit damper on snow than its weight would suggest.
I think much of this is due to the ski’s construction. The Orb has a poplar core (as opposed to a lighter paulownia or balsa/flax core) with two sheets of full-length titanal and a fiberglass wrap. This is a construction that’s similar to what we’ve seen on some very stable all-mountain skis such as the 17/18 Volkl Mantra and Kendo and Nordica Enforcer 93. Though, granted, those skis are significantly heavier. But if done properly, this kind of construction can result in a smooth, damp ride.
Let’s be clear here though: the 178.3 cm Orb is not a super damp charger. But it also isn’t some pingy, carbon touring ski, either. It does a good job of smoothing out bumps and chop in softer snow, but it does have a tendency to get deflected in heavy or firm snow at high speeds. (Again, it’s still pretty light overall.)
While Luke and I have been able to ski the Orb quite hard in forgiving, soft, spring conditions and smooth, firm snow, it wouldn’t be our first recommendation for those looking to hit mach speeds on very firm or roughed-up snow. But if you’re looking for a ski that is quite maneuverable, easy to flick around, and offers a fairly damp ride for its weight, then the Orb is a good option.
And for the record, we would all be very interested in testing the 183.4 cm version of the Orb. Since the 178.3 cm Orb feels like it skis slightly short — and it’s also a pretty light ski — we think the 183.4 cm could offer a bit more stability without feeling very demanding.
The Orb has a distinctly calm feel on smooth groomers. It doesn’t suck me into a turn with much authority, or pop me out of the apex very hard once I’m in a turn. It’s just calm, easy to bend, and easy to handle. While Black Crows emphasizes the pop and liveliness of the Orb, I’d be inclined to call it “smooth” rather than “full of life.”
The Orb’s edge hold on groomers feels good, but it’s certainly not class-leading. The Orb also has a pretty long (though not very dramatic) section of tip taper that decreases its effective edge, making it feel a touch short, especially on firmer snow. Luke also felt like he wasn’t able to really access the Orb’s tip as much as he could on skis such as the Liberty VMT 92 or Line Sakana, which have big, fat tips with a lot less taper.
That said, on anything softer than ice (where we have yet to test the ski), the Orb carves well, and this will definitely be noticeable if you’re coming from wider skis. Turn initiation feels easy and intuitive, and the ski tracks quite well until the groomers get all chopped-up late in the day — then it can get knocked around a bit. The Orb’s tail feels supportive, but is also forgiving if you get a little backseat.
So if you’re looking for a very high-energy, precision carver, there are better options in this category. But for a ski that skis so well off piste (see below), I personally am quite content with the Orb’s carving performance.
It’s also worth noting that Luke and I both thought the Orb felt just a bit locked-in with the factory tune. We’ll update this when we’ve had a chance to play with the tune to see if this makes any noticeable changes on snow.
While we doubt many people will be extremely concerned with the 91mm-underfoot Orb’s performance in powder, I did ski the Orb for a day at A-Basin after a nearly 3-foot storm cycle, and was able to get deep turns all day to see how it performed in deep snow.
The Orb is obviously pretty narrow for deep pow, so it unsurprisingly doesn’t float all that well. But overall, I was quite surprised by how well the Orb handled deep snow. The tapered shovels kept it from feeling too hooky, but I think one of the main reasons why the Orb does well in powder (for its width) is its flex pattern.
In powder, the lack of energy and rebound that I felt on groomers turned into a really good thing. The Orb planes predictably (though the tips will still dive in deep snow) and the round flex allowed me to transition into a neutral (or even backseat) stance to keep the tips up in deeper snow.
In steep, recycled slough and powder on A-Basin’s upper East Wall, the Orb felt surprisingly comfortable given its narrow width. It was nimble enough to dodge the rocks but still able to float up and slash from a neutral stance (this tends to be easier in steeper terrain). When the pitch mellowed out at the bottom and the snow transitioned to 15” of consolidated pow, I still had to ski on my heels to keep the tips up, but again, the Orb is only 91 mm wide, after all.
Chop / Variable
The Orb is narrow and light, but I found it to track surprisingly well in chop and variable conditions. Its slightly tapered tip kept the ski from feeling hooky, its round flex is forgiving, and the ski feels pretty smooth (especially in softer chop and variable). I’d prefer to be on a wider, heavier, and longer ski for blowing through chop at speed, but if you’re willing to ski with a bit more finesse, the Orb is passable in these conditions, and I’d say it does better than several other ~90mm-underfoot skis I’ve been on.
That said, the 178.3 cm Orb does have a tendency to sink and punch through soft snow, especially when pushed hard, but that tends to be true of most ~90 mm wide skis. This isn’t a powder ski, or even a “day after the powder day” ski. This is a ski for all those other days. But if you do come across some deeper chop or soft snow, I’d say the Orb performs admirably for its width.
The Orb feels quick, fairly damp for its weight, and has a forgiving yet supportive tail. This is a good combination for bumps, and overall, I thought the Orb performed quite well here. Whether zipperlining big, fall-line moguls or hopping around on funky double fall lines, the Orb never felt out of place in bumps.
When skiing steep, fall-line moguls down Zdarsky in the West Basin at Taos, the Orb felt supportive, willing to be driven, and comfortable while weaving through bumps. The steeper the terrain, the more it seemed like the Orb was in its natural place.
The Orb’s tail felt supportive if I got back seat, but still quite forgiving (again, it has a pretty round flex pattern). If you get too far back, the tail will encourage you to correct rather than put you on the ground or send you rocketing downhill.
My only gripe about the Orb in moguls is its lack of energy. The same calm feeling it has on groomers translates to bumps, too. The Orb feels fairly quick because of its low weight, but while some other skis feel quick because of the energy / rebound of their flex, the Orb doesn’t as much. It has a more planted, calm feel rather than an energetic, dynamic one.
Granted, this is definitely a pretty subjective, personal gripe — I tend to prefer skis that cater to a more dynamic skiing style. So while I’ve certainly had fun on the Orb in moguls, it wouldn’t be my personal first choice for a pure bump ski. Luke Koppa, on the other hand, enjoyed the Orb during the brief time he used it in bumps, and this makes sense as he takes a less aggressive, less dynamic approach to moguls than I do.
The Orb as a 50/50 ski?
I think some people would be happy with the Orb in the backcountry given its fairly low weight and strong off-piste performance. But for me personally, it’s hard to justify touring on a ski that’s over 1,800 grams and is as narrow as the Orb. At 91 mm underfoot, the Orb falls more in line with mountaineering and firm-snow backcountry skis, and I personally prefer a dedicated ski for that sort of touring, not a 50/50 ski.
And of course, it’s worth noting here that Black Crows makes a touring version of the Orb, called the Orb Freebird, which features a lighter construction and a stated weight of 1495 grams for the 178.3 version. We haven’t however, been on the Orb Freebird, so we can’t comment on its performance.
Could you use the Orb as a 50/50 ski? Of course. And I think some people might really like it for that use (particularly if you live in a lower-snow area). But I would personally choose something wider and / or lighter for a 50/50 setup since I mostly ski in Colorado, where I usually tour for light, mid-winter powder, spring corn, or steeps on bigger objectives.
So far, we’ve found the Black Crows Orb to be a surprisingly versatile ski. At 91 mm underfoot, it skis groomers well, though it’s not the best carver in this class. But where we found the Orb to really excel is in off-piste bumps and steeps. It’s very maneuverable and has a nice, round, forgiving flex pattern — a combination that we think many people will get along with. The Orb is fairly light, so it’s not the best ski for charging in variable snow, but if you don’t need best-in-class stability and you appreciate a lighter ski, the Orb offers a nice blend of suspension and low weight. So if you’re looking for a ski to break out in between storms and you spend just as much time (or more time) off-piste as you do on-piste, consider the Orb.
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