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Viper ice axe
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Viper
Black Diamond Equipment
$234

Thinking about a new set of ice tools this season? Besides normal offerings from the regular suspects, there are new choices that include extreme clearance shafts with angles resembling something from Star Trek, leashless ďsportĒ tools with brass-knuckle grips, and space age materials. Black Diamondís latest, the Viper, is more on the evolutionary and not revolutionary side. Clearly a direct descendent of BDís very popular carbon-fiber Cobra, it sports an obviously similar shaft design. Differences include a somewhat more aggressive shaft curve and a pinky finger rest, a`la the very popular Charlet Moser Quark. The grip is also a lot smaller than that of the Cobra. This makes a lot of people happy who love the feel of the Cobra, but have small hands. (My wife is one.) It also shares the same pick, adze and hammer across the BD line. Mighty convenient and pretty much guaranteeing availability of parts.

Iíve put the Viper through its paces in a variety of New England ice conditions. The head of the Viper doesnít accelerate at the end of the swing the way the Cobra does, and initially I was uncomfortable with itís lighter weight Ėitís a full 57 grams lighter. On top of that the Viper swings-through way faster and the shaft flexes a bit. The former is good, but shove either end into a crack and torque on it and youíre definitely going to feel it move. But, once you get used to the tool, itís no problem. Of course that extra curve in the shaft is especially welcome on mushrooms and going over bulges.

So where does the Viper fall down? In my opinion only with the pinky rest at the end of the shaft. While itís nice, with a snug leash I didnít find it necessary. However, BD now offers the Viper Fang option, which supports your hand even more. It's cool to play with, and for a paltry $11 you can try the leashless thing without breaking the bank.

Conclusion:  It's on the expensive side and you'll have to buy a leash, but if steep waterfall ice is your thing, the Viperís a great choice. Nice job BD!

Details: 645 g, leash not included

Al Hospers
February 2003

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