Friday 18 December 2009

Black Diamond new Fusions review

I doubt if there is any piece of climbing equipment more readily drooled over than whatever  newest model of ice tool is released by Black Diamond. It’s no accident that for decades their ice tools have not only been hands down the most effective on the market but also aesthetic ‘things of beauty’. Everyone in the chain of ice tool design, from the athletes team providing feedback like myself upwards simply love talking about, appreciating and improving ice tools.

The first generation Fusion was the definitive leashless tool for several years. The ice climbing community has been waiting with baited breath for the new model which has been extensively revised and looks quite different to the old orange model.

Arriving home from training in Spain, one of the first pairs of the new ‘greens’ was sitting on the floor of my training room. I’ve only had a chance to try them out dry tooling on a board so far, but hopeful in a matter of days I’ll have them out on the real stuff and will update this review. 

The new model has a series of additions that neatly solve the limitations of the old version:

A detachable spike on the end of the shaft
A rubberised top handle
A more angled upper shaft for more room to hook over bulky ledges and ice bubbles
lighter than the old model and better weighted for swinging in ice

There also some more subtle changes that will make the tool more durable such as a one piece beefy head with small fixed hammer, a metal tipped upper handle nose and a nicer arrangement to extend the lower handle with spacers for bigger hands. For the trad climbers one potential downside might be that the heavily angled upper shaft might make it a little more difficult to place pegs. But overall I’d still prefer it this way due to the greater space to hook over bulging features. It’s great to see the tool a little lighter too. Weaklings like me got a little weary after clearing snow and rime for hours on end overhead with the old tools.

So how do they feel to use? Brilliant. Comfortable for the hands - some other tools like the Petzl Nomics are a bit brutal on long steep bouts of climbing. The handles seem a good size for holding with little energy, the axe feels great to wield and accurate in fast and neat placements. I’ve yet to notice any bending on super high leverage sideways torques which is reassuring. The only negative thing I can think of to say is it would be nice to have a small patch of ‘grippy’ rubber extending over the inside of the hook at the base of the lower handle. That might add a bit of cost to manufacture?? But it would make them perfect. I’ve never seen or used a better ice axe.

In summary, the new Fusion is yet another thing of beauty that sits rightfully at the top of their range, and therefore the rest of the ice tool market. They will be the pride and joy of any ice climber’s kit.

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