The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Black Diamond Whippet Self Arrest Ski Pole: Added Security
Posted on: April 3, 2008
Weight: 395 g (13.9 ounces)
Length Adjustment: 97-140 centimeters
Having spent numerous ski tours climbing and skiing steep, bulletproof terrain, I found myself wanting some added security in the often-precarious ski mountaineering environment. The latest model of the Black Diamond Whippet provided what I was looking for. Whereas past models have sported a detachable pick, this year's Whippet integrates the pick into the pole, increasing the overall strength of the pick/pole interface. The new design was intriguing, and after using it, my previous concerns about the Whippet were dispelled.
A clear morning in early January afforded me and my partner the chance to go tackle The Ribbon in southwest Montana's Gallatin Range. Located up Hyalite Canyon on the northeast face of Elephant Mountain, The Ribbon features consistently steep skiing with a narrow and exposed crux up high on the line, which is by no means death defying, but a slip-up at the crux would not have been pretty on the icy, windblown snow. Bootpacking up the line I appreciated how securely the Whippet's pick bit into the snow—surprisingly similar to the feel of an ice tool pick. Beyond the traditional pick design, the Whippet's pick also features a horizontal wing attachment on top. This wing helped stabilize the pick in conditions that were more snowy than icy—truly a hallmark of this pole.
The first few turns into the line were tricky and steep. While I didn't have to rely on the self-arresting capabilities of the Whippet's pick, I was impressed with the rigidity of the pole while planting and rotating off of it to initiate jump turns. The bulk of the pole made the swing weight feel a tad heavier than other alpine poles (the Whippet weighs in at 13.9 ounces), but it didn't compromise the pole's performance or interfere with my turns.
The Whippet is versatile but best for skiing and ski mountaineering. Its durability and strength make it a legitimate ski pole because it can take the abuse of both aggressive ski descents and precise mountaineering descents. However, I could also see this pole coming in handy for light mountaineering objectives, to save weight by taking the Whippet instead of an ax and a pole, especially because of its length adjustability. However, I would not recommend the Whippet to replace a tried-and-true mountaineering ax.
Since I would not take this pole for powder skiing, the powder basket seems a bit excessive. A smaller basket on the pole would be nice, allowing for better purchase on steeper terrain.
Pros: Durable; versatile; provides great stability.
Cons: A bit on the heavy side; excessively large powder basket.