Black Diamond Equipment was originally founded as Chouinard Equipment by Yvon Chouinard. Chouinard was a visionary big wall, ice and alpine climber who also happened to be an ironworker. In his classic book, Climbing Ice, Yvon states,
“In 1967 Tom Frost and I not only designed a new ‘alpine hammer’ with a drooping pick, but also brought out an adjustable, rigid crampon…Armed with these new tools, American climbers began approaching steep ice with a new attitude.”
To this day, Black Diamond continues the tradition of supporting a new attitude towards climbing through advances in materials and design of technical ice tools.
Here’s the “skinny” on the 3 BD ice tools that I use (although, there’s a new ground-breaking one reportedly in the works).
Black Diamond Ice Tools: Fuel Hammer, Cobra, Viper
*Fuel Hammer – is a high performance tool for steep ice and overhanging rock. Because of its offset grip, the swing is slightly shortened and downward, which for some is more “natural.”
The offset grip also makes it better for hooking on rock and steep ice.
Although the Fuel Hammer is slightly heavier then the regular Fuel, I prefer it on ice because I can bang my palm up against the hammer to loosen a stuck pick. A hammer is also necessary to place and remove pitons in the mountains.
*Cobra – is made from carbon-fiber (as opposed to the aluminum Fuel and Viper), which makes it stronger and more rigid for its weight. Although it costs $150 more than the Fuel, the carbon fiber material translates into a tool that vibrates less upon impact, is slightly lighter (1 oz), and is warmer on the hands.
The Cobra has a traditional grip, meaning that the swinging motion is more like throwing a ball, and some claim that is more “natural” for them. It has the most clearance of any tool, which makes it better for clearing mushrooms and bulges.
The Cobra is a good tool for moderate mixed, ice, and alpine. It’s my tool of choice for most of my ice and alpine climbs.
*Viper – is an all-around tool for ice and alpine. It is aluminum, so costs less than the Cobra, but otherwise climbs quite similarly. The pinky rest can be removed for better spike placement on a steep snow slope, and the secondary grip can be moved up and down the shaft, or removed for alpine climbing as well. It is perfect for someone who wants a good, technical tool but usually climbs less than vertical rock and ice.
Black Diamond also has four picks – the Mixed, Ice, Ice Plus and Alpine.
The Mixed pick is thicker for increased strength and durability with aggressive front teeth for hooking.
The Ice pick has a thin nose and low volume tip for minimal ice displacement.
The Ice Plus pick is 2 degrees less steep (more open pick angle) for a more open swing on pure ice.
The Alpine pick is a more burly for mixed alpine terrain.
I asked physics professor, BD athlete, ice and alpine climbing maestro and all-round great guy, Raphael Slawinski, how he would compare the Fuel with the Cobra. He said,
“It’s a tossup between the Cobra and the Fuel. The Cobra has a more intuitive swing, but once you get used to the Fuel, it swings really well too (especially with the Ice+ pick, which has a more relaxed angle. And I find the Fuel grip more restful to hang from. As a result, I do almost all my pure ice climbing with a pair of Fuels. The only place I use the Cobras these days is in the alpine, where I’m going to be swinging into hard 60-degree ice fields. The Cobras do better on that kind of lower-angle terrain.”
Ultimately, my advice is to take advantage of demo opportunities to decide what works for you, keep a good attitude and keep on swinging.