Black Diamond Whippet Ski Pole Defects?

You know I love this most essential of ski mountaineering tools, the Whippet, manufactured by Black Diamond Equipment. Long ago, I penned two different homages, with such creative titles as, A Dozen Uses for the Black Diamond Whippet Self-Arrest Ski Pole, as well as, Another Dozen Uses

I don’t bring them out on low-angle, high avalanche danger days, but I do use them on any sort of steep ski missions, including steep powder days. That’s because the scope of their utilization is infinitely wider than mere self-arresting. Check the links above for 24 other simple uses.

Not only do I ski with these tools regularly, but I’ve recommended them to many ski partners as well, partners who’ve paid heed and picked up one or two for their own good. And they still ski with them; once you get used to having a Whippet in hand, it’s hard to go steep skiing without them. In fact, so many partners ski with them that I’ve taken to painting mine, both because I appreciate a different color, and because it makes it easier to grab my own out of the group gear pile.

Hooking rock with the Whippet in hand during my recent descent of Tora Bora. Ski mountaineering isn't the same without this tool in one's hand.

Hooking rock with my custom painted, and very chipped, Whippet in hand while deciding whether to not to bail during my recent descent of Tora Bora. Ski mountaineering isn’t the same without this tool in one’s hand.

The point is, this is gear I use. It’s gear I usually trust, from a brand, Black Diamond Equipment, who usually manufactures bomber gear. This ski pole is gear I recommend to friends. But the new batch of Whippets (with stainless steel picks) appears to be plagued with a manufacturing defect, or the stainless in use is not as durable as other metal options. For all of my use, as well as that of my partners and friends, I’ve never seen (nor heard about) a Whippet pick failure.

That changed recently when Jason Killgore posted up pictures of identically sheared stainless steel Whippet picks that occurred on the same day, in the hands of different people. The failures  appear to have occurred in precisely the same locations, indicating lack of coincidence. They even follow the same angled line of breakage.

In my mind, a sheared stainless steel pick qualifies as a serious gear failure, when that gear is new. Besides the implications of safety gear failures, that’s a $140 ski pole, whose pick isn’t easily replaced by the user. Fixing the breakage during the relatively short ski mountaineering season would be inconvenient at best.

Jason's partner's sheared Whippet.

Jason’s partner’s sheared Whippet. 

Pic of the short section of ice upon which one Whippet pick broke.

Pic of the short section of ice upon which one Whippet pick broke.

Further information as provided by Jason: My partner’s Whippet pick snapped cleanly in half while climbing 10’ of easy ice. 3 miles away, another acquaintance had the exact same failure on the same day. Both Whippets were being used for the first time on hard surface conditions (but purchased months apart). Both were carbon models with stainless picks.

The other Whippet that broke on the same day, in a  different person's hand.

The other Whippet that broke on the same day, in a different person’s hand. Same angle to the shear as the other broken Whippet.

All pictures courtesy of Jason Killgore.

Jason adds, and I second: I’d advise anybody with a Whippet with a stainless steel pick to treat it as suspect until some sort of comment is made by Black Diamond Equipment. 

Certainly I’ve been in a lot of places where I wouldn’t want my Whippet to fail! Fortunately, I use an older model and it’s proven quite solid for several years. But if you’ve bought – or are using – a new one, be aware!

6 Responses to “Black Diamond Whippet Ski Pole Defects?”

  • I’m not really on top of these things, (and I trust and use my whippet and other BD gear regularly) but haven’t there been a number of complaints about BD stainless stuff breaking?

  • any update on this? Mine is way older and I’ve never had a problem but I’m definitely curious.

  • Pondsy – The above referenced links include some interesting reading regarding some other Black Diamond products constructed of stainless steel. The issue doesn’t appear to be linked exclusively to the Whippet, but to whatever mix of stainless BD has chosen for their products. Seems likely this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing about this topic.

  • This is yet another unfortunate turn of events for BDs stainless line. Not as critical as the crampon thing but still pretty shitty.

    Funny about all this Whippet love. It’s mostly an American thing. After spending some time in Chamonix last year, I saw not one Whippet on anyone. Not the gapers nor the gnarliest steep skiers in the valley. Not sure why that is. As can be seen on many Fransson videos, he simply grabs his ice axe along with his ski pole. This certainly seems awkward but would be handier if you really needed to stick a tool. A Whippet would fail in comparison. And one thing I know from direct observation, there are very few conditions where arresting with anything on steep terrain is likely after a fall. It’s been done but on a limited basis. Not sure what the best solution is.

  • Brian – ‘Not sure why that is.’ – Me neither. ;-) Have noticed the same over the years.

    The ‘arguments’ about (pro/con) Whippets ever continue. I would only add three points: Holding an unleashed, straight shafted ice ax (in addition to a ski pole) seems like little protection to me as it can easily slip out of one’s grasp at the moment of all need, before the second hand can come around and get on top of it.

    Personally, I run into far more situations to use the Whippet on (icy, slick, steep, ridiculously devoid of snow and rocky..) approaches than during my skiing. There isn’t time to rummage around the back of my pack trying to pull an ice ax out when these ‘events’ raise their little heads.

    I got lucky and managed to arrest a four somersault tumble down steep terrain last year. When I stopped and took plenty of time to assess the situation, all four of my limbs, and my Whippet clad hand, were buried in the snow. Did the Whippet do anything extra for me to stop my cheerleader tryout? I’ll never know, but psychologically, it told me to. keep. trying. no. matter. what. Works for me.

    Also unsure what the best solution is. In my view though, it’s not just for self arresting. Three seasons ago, very early season, I needed to get over a 6-8 foot wind lip that was near vertical. Jumping was right out due to rocks in the landing zone and thin coverage. The (borrowed, thought I wouldn’t need mine) Whippet gave plenty of psychological confidence as well as good hand anchoring.

    Louie Dawson put out a pretty good story a few years back involving a Whippet-in-each-hand self arrest that occurred over exposure, for which he profusely thanked Mr. Whippet himself. So Whippet-assisted self arrests happen, sometimes, despite any naysayers.

    Obviously, I think people should use whatever they think works, or works for them. There probably isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. But I DO know that one shouldn’t have to worry about their Whippet pick snapping off in the middle of small maneuvers over consequences.

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