Black Diamond Helio jacket, Fordge down jacket, and Mission ski pants review

Last winter I was stoked to be issued a Black Diamond uniform, consisting of a Helio shell, a Forge down hoody, and Mission Pro pants. I taught 12 avalanche education courses, guided and even found time for some recreational outings, totaling about 60 days of use. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on these pieces, here are my thoughts.

Helio Alpine Shell:

This flagship Gore-Tex with C-knit backer shell is perhaps the best crafted Black Diamond clothing I’ve ever seen. The fit and finish are comparable to any other top-tier brand. This is a lightweight waterproof shell that is light enough (around 13oz) to stuff in your pack and forget about it until you need it, but burley enough to handle rock and ice climbing (and climbing trees to hide beacons). The fit is a little bit baggy, which I prefer for skiing, with a long hem length for full coverage in deep powder. Features are minimal in order to keep weight down: this jacket has two Napolean style chest pockets that are very useful when wearing a pack or harness, and pit zips. The zippers are a little sticky at first but wear in after a short while. The hood has only one rear pull cord, which works quite well. But I rarely wanted more features (personally I would trade pit zips for hand pockets, but many would disagree). The fabric is soft, quiet, and more breathable than Gore-Tex Pro, allowing me to comfortably skin with the jacket on, a rarity for me and  waterproof/breathable fabrics. There doesn’t seem to be a durability trade-off, as the jacket still looks and works as good as new, even the DWR coating. All in all, this has become my favorite ski shell; it hits the features I need without weighing much, and has the durability to withstand daily use and abuse.

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The crew skinning uphill in the Black Diamond Helio Jacket and Mission ski pants. Both provide enough breathability to be worn on the up.

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KMG owner and lead guide Josh Kling sporting the Black Diamond Mission ski pants and Helio hard shell on the down. While the pants are slightly more baggy then ideal, they are easily tuff enough for the 100+ day season.


Forge Down Hoody:

This is a warm and relatively light down jacket, warm enough to be a great mid-layer in San Juan winters or a lightweight outer layer/belay jacket for warmer climates or the other three seasons. The fit is relatively close, which I appreciate for climbing, and layers well under other clothes. Features include hand pockets, a chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack with carabiner clip-in loop, awesome drop-in interior pockets (all jackets should have these), 700-fill DWR down and a light but durable 20 denier DWR shell, all in a 15oz package. The close fit means this jacket moves well and feels extra cozy, the only downside being the cuffs are a little tight if you wear a watch. This is a common problem for me, I just cut a notch into the left wrist of most of my coats. The jacket is plenty warm down to the teens F, and breathable enough to skin or climb in at those temps, and the DWR fabric and down never wetted out, even in driving snow and sleet. The hood is well designed to fit over a helmet or tighten up enough to keep the weather out without a helmet on, and the low hem adds extra coverage and warmth. If you prefer a baggier fit, consider sizing up. I look forward to using this light puffy as an alpine jacket this summer.

 

Mission Ski Pants:

These are real ski pants, built to withstand years of use in the backcountry and the resort. They are particularly warm and durable, with Gore-Tex 3L and a brushed interior. The most unique feature is a built-in, padded, beacon harness on the right leg, including a tether and interior clip.. I initially thought the placement of this beacon pocket, low on the leg, would be annoying, but it turns out it’s perfect. I can barely notice the beacon while skinning or skiing, it’s easy to remove the beacon even with heavy gloves on, and the low placement makes a fine search easy. It’s a great feature I hope to see in all touring pants in the future. There’s also a “secret” stash pocket on the left leg that’s the perfect size for an AIARE field book, another thoughtful feature. A wallet pocket rounds out the storage. The cuffs feature Keprotec cuff patches, elastic inner gaiters and cuff zippers that allow you to deal with buckles without having to pull up the cuffs. The fit is quite baggy, kind of the opposite of rando-race lycra. You’ll actually look like you enjoy skiing downhill, and there’s nothing that will limit your range of motion, even with the side venting zips closed. The legs are a bit long, but the integrated belt helps keep the waist in place. What really strikes me is the durability of these pants; I tend to shred pants over the course of a season, but these still look mostly new. If you’re looking for pants that can last for hundreds of ski days, these are the ones.

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KMG spliboard guide and AIARE avalanche instructor Jack Klim sporting the Black Diamond Helio jacket and Mission ski pants while working in the pits taking snow observations.

Tico Allulee

IFMGA Ski and Mountain Guide

DarkStarMoutainGuide

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