Black Crows Nocta Review
An overly comprehensive performance review of the Black Crows Nocta by one wordy man.
An Upfront Summary
An impeccably agile ski with forgiving flex. The full reverse camber feels loose in any snow and particularly natural in deep snow. The super low swing-weight make it great for darty maneuvers in tight trees or steep chutes. It welcomes air-time and is exceptionally accommodating to low-angle and low-speed skiing as well. It's not an easy ski in terms of balance and control, however, warranting confidence and attention to your stance at all times. It can make a great touring ski for PNW snow, and is surprisingly capable inbounds with decent stability in light-chop, but limited overall versatility at the resort.
Super light and nimble on the feet.
Great feedback from the snow.
Easy to kickturn.
Exceptional at low-angle and low-speed pow were most other skis drown.
Inspires dynamic, playful skiing with pops and slashes.
Masters of wet and heavy powder.
Hates firm-variable snow.
Hard upper speed limit.
Uninspiring at the resort.
Requires constant attention to balance.
I’m 6’3”, 200 lbs, and put lots of energy into every ski run. I’m also generally accustomed to wide skis, and reverse-camber skis.
My 2020, 190cm Nocta’s are mounted with low-tech bindings (G3 Zed) at the only factory recommended line, -6cm from center. As of this writing I have brought them touring roughly 20 days plus a couple days at the resort. All in coastal BC, Canada.
The Nocta’s have remained unchanged for the 2021, 2022, and 2023 seasons, except for the graphics.
The widest point of the shovel is quite far back from the tip, but not actually very wide at 140mm. I nonetheless wouldn’t say they “taper” much as the tip is quite square and the shovel basically just stays at its widest measure for several inches. This shape provides a lot of surface area and allows a relatively tight sidecut despite having only an 18mm delta from shovel to waist. (Thats a very low number FYI.)
The sidecut does not match the camber-profile. If held back-to-side, the curves do not follow each other. The sidecut has a tighter radius than the camber profile.
These skis are fully reverse cambered with no flat section in the middle. Put back to back, the bases are always departing from one another. I just wanted to make that clear because this aspect is often hard to observe/trust from the manufacturers online photos. The cambered profile is modest and mostly linear with a gentle swoop at the tips and tails.
The manufacturer specs them at 2075g each. Mine came to 2170g on the kitchen scale. That's fairly lightweight for its length and width I would say, but probably not making anyones “lightweight” category per se. That said, they feel extremely light in practice. A joy to have on the feet. Very (!) low swing-weight. I suspect the construction is largely to credit for this feeling but the rockered profile and minimal sidecut also likely have a lot to do with it. I cannot overstate this defining quality of how nimble they feel underfoot.
Flex and Stability
More damp than snappy, though you can still get a great pop if you press into them.
They arn’t noodles by any means, but certainly not very stiff overall and stability at speed is noticeably compromised, though this consequence may stem equally from the rockered profile as the flex specifically. The shovels in particular are hard to control beyond "medium speed". Moving your weight progressively forward as speed increases requires more attention than other skis, as this change in required balance is somehow very pronounced on the Nocta. At any speed, the shovels clearly need some pressure to behave, but aren't tolerant of excess pressure either.
Once I got used to these skis, they felt predictable in multiple snow types including dry pow, wet pow, soft chop, shallow and deep snow. When the snow is variable - alternating between soft and firm, or fast and slow, the Noctas become skidish and overly responsive to the changing conditions.
They boast awesome float, no doubt. Essentially no tip dive except for the super challenging conditions of an inverted snowpack. That said, I ski fairly centered and upright, as you are clearly supposed to on this ski, but can easily imagine someone with stiff boots and a traditional stance driving the shovels too hard and getting dive or folding. The wide and straight tail provides a lot of the desired sensation, easily planing and breaking sideways. Unsurprisingly, they are very comfortable in deep snow. Landing jumps and drops seems to really utilize the flex along with the surface area to maximal effect; essentially an ideal platform to land on in deep snow.
One of my favorite traits of the Nocta is how quickly they get up to speed and ready to engage. Almost as soon as you push off and point down, you are fully skiing. There is no waiting of time or distance before you get into rhythm. They just ride so well at slow speed.
At medium and higher speeds they obviously plane incredibly well with minimal plowing effect. They can surf on the surface or dive in the depth depending on your style and power.
It felt strange at first, but I got quite comfortable on groomed runs with relatively soft snow. Using an active lower body to always maximize the edge angle, I’d say you can hammer the Noctas pretty fast down a lift line. Far from winning any gated slalom races obviously, but its good enough to still be enjoying yourself on the way back to a chairlift.
I did find however the Noctas very clumsy in firm bumps and through dry glades, generally lacking edge grip. Conversely, I found them surprisingly composed across both soft and firm chop. Even cruising at speed over rough snow / soft-chop, I rarely felt like the tips were getting deflected uncontrollably. That said, I always kept the ski on a high angle, which implies an energetic ski form. You basically never want to keep the bases flat on hardpack, else they wander (rotate).
I did not hate the Nocta at the resort, but I can’t imagine ever choosing this option over a more stable ski with some sidecut. The modern “big mountain” style with rocker-camber-rocker and stiffness underfoot is tremendously more versatile and capable throughout the day and throughout the season. In a quiver of alpine skis it could be nice to have the Nocta as an option for gladed storm days, though I think the float and maneuverability offered can be found in other ski options with much more hardpack versatility.
Terrain of Choice
Have you ever looked into a steep, snowy gully and felt determined to set an exaggerated turn on the opposite bank, throwing the tail up higher than your head? The Nocta was made for this.
Large turn shapes in open terrain are doable when the snow is smooth. As the snow gets more variable or the terrain more dynamic, the Nocta’s clearly prefer (demand?) a succession of smaller turns rather than one large. If you’re lucky enough to have some pillow-like features in powder snow, you couldn’t be on better tools. The Nocta feels very balanced in the air and its wide+soft tails are ideal for pressing into those intermediate-landings. In fact; the more wild the terrain, the more suitable the Nocta. Think trees, boulder fields, creek gulleys, windlips, etc. They can make some nice classic too, but other skis can do better to enjoyably farm consistent fall-line pitches. Speed is a bit the enemy of the Nocta, to my experience, and that is mostly something I embrace in the backcountry.
They are also ideal for those annoyingly dense and overgrown backcountry forest exits. And when you need to ski through white lava (aka deep and wet snow), the Noctas will keep you atop and permit turning where lesser skis could not. In the Pacific Northwest, almost every alpine ski zone has a technical forest exit and conditions are rarely cold & dry toward valley bottoms. Additionally, big snow storms tend to correlate with warmer temps here, meaning that the biggest volumes of fresh snow are often skied a grade warmer than ideal. Overall I find the Nocta exceptionally designed for these conditions, allowing me to pop around and play where larger/stiffer skis feel cumbersome, and narrower skis simply get overwhelmed.
This is the section which gives me pause in praising the Nocta’s, and also my hesitation to recommend them to inexperienced skiers. In short: the sweet spot for fore/aft balance is very small.
Because the tails are relatively soft, they are forgiving and actually let you ski a bit from the backseat. But by that same token, they let you fall backseat very easily. And they can’t really be driven forwards either at risk of overloading the shovels and have them bend enough to lurch you forward. (It happens.) Its not a radical characteristic, but its something I have to watch out for more on this ski than most others, including those with far less float.
Perhaps the 190cm length is simply on the small side for my weight and style. I feel a bit tall and heavy for this ski, frankly, so other folks may find a larger sweet spot for fore/aft balance. Its not a damming quality overall, just an aspect that demands some skill and attention.
Update after another season of use:
Since writing the above review I’ve put a heap more full days on these skis and have come to think a bit differently about the balance aspect. Firstly, I do think it is a bit of a “radical characteristic” for a ski. It outright requires increased engagement from the skier, but permits such direct feedback and fantastic sense of connection to the snow. It's something that I’ve come to greatly appreciate about the Noctas, though also recognizing its limitations. They feel more like a bodily extension than other skis. Foot pressure and ankle flexion are emphasized, along with keeping a low center of gravity and mobile hips. The reward is an ultimately surfy feel with maximum liberty of turn shape and playful maneuvering. In terms of the physical design: I believe its character stems not only from rocker and flex, but also the short sidecut length, shallow sidecut, and low swing weight. These elements all serve to center the point of control under the skier's feet while sacrificing stability at the tip and tails.
On the Uptrack
Some folks have asked me if they have poor skin traction due to the reverse camber. While I can relate to that theory, I can’t say I’ve observed it in practice. I use a low-tech binding and glidey skins cut to profile from 130mm. I’ve found it to be critically important to have profile-cut skins at this ski width. I also tried a straight 100mm skins of the exact same brand/model to disastrous effect; just atrocious traction on anything but perfectly flat trail.
They break trail exceptionally with rarely having to “pick them up”, and they kickturn easier than most skis due to the centered mounting and low rotational weight. Side-hilling definitely feels less comfortable than more narrow skis, but I have not found it to be a substantial issue.
Mounted with a <400g binding, I find the setup light enough for big uphill days. Compared to my Raven+Zed combo which is 350g lighter on each foot, I’d say the difference is noticeable but really not substantial enough to change the route/objective for the day or number of laps. Compared to my Anima+Shift setup which is >800g heavier on each foot, the difference is huge and directly changes my ambition/capability for distance and elevation.
The recommended line is -6cm from centre and I have no desire to try anything different. There never feels like a lot of tail behind so I wouldn’t want to go further back. And as mentioned, its possible to fold the shovels still, so I wouldn’t want to go further forward.
The top sheets and sidewalls have proven better than average in durability. I haven’t found notable difference between manufacturers in regards to bases and edges.
Recommend for whom?
Definitely not for anyone over 210 lbs. If you are over 180 lbs, I’d ask how hard/fast you intend to ski them, because the 190cm won’t be a charger for anyone above that weight. If in doubt, definitely size up in length.
It's for skiers who add a lot of rotational movement into their turns, seeing the tails swing wide. Its for skiers who want to optimize the fun-factor in moderate terrain and never feel like the skis arn’t being pushed hard enough to come alive. Lastly, its for skiers who anticipate a lot of snow and don’t always feel the need to travel mach-one across it.
My Personal Conclusion
Living and skiing in coastal BC (north and south of Whistler), I have considered these my primary touring skis for a season and a half now, though they are obviously unsuitable on certain days. I regularly deal with (or am privileged to) deep snow, heavy/wet snow, zipper crusts, high avalanche conditions, creek exits, and forest bashing… all circumstances mated perfectly to the Nocta’s expertise. But given poor performance on hard and variable snow, its not always easy to reach for them with question-marks ahead. Generally not ideal as a one-ski quiver. Lastly; it is not my preference to ski the Nocta at the resort, ever.
If you are considering the Nocta, you are probably also looking at these other skis. I have not tried any of them personally, but I’ll point out how I consider the on-paper comparison:
Similar waist and shovel dimensions. Same length. Same weight. Substantially stiffer I’m sure, at least in the tails. Longer turning radius and a totally different (tapering) tail shape. The rocker profile on the Renegade also appears unsymmetrical front to back. The 4FRNT skis are considerably less costly and I strongly considered getting these instead but wanted to prioritize turnabilty and low-speed performance, which I feared the Renegades would not excel at based on online reviews and word-of-mouth. I also owned the Ravens which I ultimately didn't get along with largely based on the stiff and relatively narrow tail.
Moment Chipotle Banana (/Tour)
Exact same width dimensions. The non-tour version was too heavy for my application. I hadn’t read any detailed reviews on either at the time, but estimated that even the tour version was going to be very stiff. The tour version is notably more expensive than the already premium-priced Nocta and looks like a limited release, but its extra length (193cm) sounds welcome.
Atomic Bent Chetler 120
This would fit the bill nicely also. Similar dimensions, though a little wider at tip and tail with a tighter turn radius. 192cm available. It has some camber underfoot but its rocker lines run so deep that with the softer flex pattern I expect it would feel similar to the Nocta in many ways. Anecdotally, I owned and loved the 2012 Bent Chetler, but could never get along with the 2018 model which incorporated the spooning “HRZN” tip/tail.
WNDR Alpine Reason
The Reason is available in 190cm length and subtle reverse camber. 120mm width. Similar weight. Similar price. The shape is significantly different to the Nocta however, with its wide shovel and long tip taper. Online reviews suggest less pivot from the center and more apt to speed and forward pressure.
Last updated or reviewed 2022-12-28