My hand was gripped to my ice axe as I reached the top of one of the Sawatch Range’s classic couloirs with skis on my back. The wind was howling as the weather devolved into whiteout conditions. Visibility was minimal. As I stepped over a perched wind lip to the summit, a small slab broke underneath my boots and I dropped to the snow. I immediately self-arrested with Black Diamond’s new Venom LT classic piolet, halting a slip before it became a fall. Relief.
Ice axe innovations are so infrequent that I almost sprayed my coffee when I saw Black Diamond’s new ice and alpine offerings for the first time. Aside from BD fully staking its claim on lime green, the new Venom LT Classic, Venom LT Tech, and Transfer LT Shovel bring fresh ideas to the ski and light-and-fast mountaineering disciplines.
Spraying coffee is dramatic. But I was intrigued by this new collection’s features and I set out to put it to the test. I spent a season skiing, ice climbing, and mountaineering in Colorado, Utah, and Washington with the new Venom LT collection while comparing it side by side with several of my favorite tools with similar functions. I think Black Diamond’s new recipe is a winner in the right context.
In short: Black Diamond went back to the drawing board with the Venom LT ice tools and Transfer LT avalanche shovel. While the shovel/ice axe integration isn’t new, BD’s version is the lightest on the market, most technically adept, and durable. The modularity of the whole package is impressive. It will meet the needs of a wide swath of mountain adventurers in style. It’s an exciting new option for weight-conscious mountaineers and skiers looking for maximum versatility for long days and big objectives.
- Hot-forged classic LT picks and LT tech picks available
- Replaceable steel spike
- Forged aluminum head and adze
- Grooved aluminum shaft
- Hammer, tech pick, adjustable pommel, and transfer LT shovel
- Blade-compatible (all purchased separately)
- 45 cm
- Venom LT Classic 240 g
- Venom LT Tech 305 g
- Ultralight and versatile
- Replaceable hot-forged steel picks
- Avalanche shovel integration
- Excellent adjustable pommels
- Spike deflects off hard snow
- Short for classic mountaineering
Black Diamond Venom LT Tools: Review
Ice axes haven’t changed much since their invention in about 1840. Before that, the alpenstock reigned supreme and that would never have fit in your backpack.
It’s only in the last 20 years that ice axes have tangibly evolved. The evolutionary fork came when the ice tool split from the ice axe (aka piolet). The long-time straight shafts were curved, the wrist leashes were tossed out, and the picks curved more downward, increasing the humble ice axe’s performance on vertical ice.
Nowadays, we enjoy a full spectrum of tools. They range from straight-shafted ice axes for glacier travel and steep snow climbing, like the lightweight aluminum CAMP Corsa, to ultra-aggressive steel-picked ice tools like the Petzl Ergonomic designed for steep ice and mixed climbing.
Where the LT Lands
Somewhere in the middle lies Black Diamond’s new Venom LT Tech ice tool and its stripped-down twin, the Venom LT Classic piolet. Both are far from being the first hybrid tool. Even hybrids have a spectrum, which ranges from lightweight ice climbing tools like the CAMP X-ALL Mountain to the ultralight Petzl Gully (280 g).
The 45cm BD LT tools are very compact and feel exceedingly light in hand. The low weight was noticeable and much appreciated during a few long days on Mt. Baker where every ounce adds up over 8,000 vertical feet of climbing. It’s a no-brainer to bring one along for spring ski tours when you may or may not need it.
The relatively short length did take some time to get used to while glacier climbing. It’s shorter than I’d typically take for classic mountaineering, meaning the slope had to get fairly steep before I could use it as a cane. I found myself crouching to add security in some instances on Mt. Baker, which took a toll on my lower back after 8 hours.
The length is much better suited to ski mountaineering or fast and light mountaineering in more technical settings for that reason. It’s the perfect size in the steeps. Plunging two, or moving upward in high dagger style adds a tremendous amount of security over a single ice axe.
BD sells the Venom LT in its most basic form, the 240g Venom LT Classic. This format is designed for ski mountaineers, springtime mountain runners, and other alpine enthusiasts who prioritize weight savings above all else. This version comes with a fairly standard steel pick more focused on self-arrest duties than overhead swinging into ice.
It’s adorned with an adorable little adze akin to a Rottweiler’s cropped tail. After chopping into ice and snow, it made me question the large size of my Grivel G1’s adze and others like it.
Customization is where the Venom gets interesting. Available add-ons are the bolt-on hammer, an aggressive down-curved hot-forged pick, and the sliding pommel. When they’re all added, you end up with the 305g Venom LT Tech. These additions move the Venom LT Tech much farther to the technical side of the ice axe/ice tool spectrum, hence “tech.”
A pair of Venom LT Techs opens up a wide variety of vertical endeavors. They can climb easy to moderate waterfall ice and can hold their own on technical rocky scrambles and mixed climbing. They’re a wonderful pair for sketchy couloir climbing where you need security across snow, ice, and rock.
The hammer has a big surface area — much larger than a typical ice tool hammer. It outperformed my Petzl Quark’s hammer in snow picket pounding into firm snow for that reason. It’s also much more pleasant than hammering a picket with an inverted ice axe. Not bringing a picket, nuts, or pitons along? Save weight and ditch the hammer in seconds.
The Venom LT’s hammer attachment does add some swing weight to the head to improve the swing. Overall, though, it swings into ice well for such a light tool. It wouldn’t be my go-to for waterfall ice climbing. But it can hold its own for a pitch here and there.
For comparison, the Petzl Quark is a much-loved all-mountain ice tool. Its much heavier steel head gives it a significant advantage over the Venom LT when swinging into ice. However, its shaft doesn’t plunge well into hard snow nearly as well.
The Petzl Sum’Tec is an even more direct comparison. It has a similar silhouette to the Venom LT, but adds more steel, which directly correlates to ice climbing functionality. The tradeoff is that it comes in 165 g heavier than the Venom LT Tech.
The Adjustable Pommel
I’m skeptical of adjustable pommels. I’ve tested more than one that slide down the shaft when you hang your weight on them. That could have serious, even deadly, consequences in many climbing circumstances. The bottom portion of the Venom LT’s shaft is straight. There’s nothing to stop the pommel from sliding off the end, so it’s even more important that the adjustable pommel doesn’t slip.
Fortunately, I tested the pommels with my full weight over and over again on both the Venom LT Tech and the à la carte pommel added to the piolet version. When they’re adjusted correctly, they’re rock solid. They didn’t slip.
Transfer LT Shovel Integration
One of the more interesting features of the Venom LT is its integration with the brand’s new Transfer LT Shovel, the “lightest UIAA-certified shovel on the market,” according to Black Diamond. At 408 g, it’s a hair lighter than BCA’s 439g Dozer 1T-UL shovel and Mammut’s 475g Alugator Light shovel.
The Transfer LT shovel is excellent on its own. The blade is large and moves snow fast. It utilizes rivets instead of welding to add strength and it feels distinctly sharp when cutting into ice blocks. Extending the handle and attaching the blade is quick thanks to the asymmetric shaft.
The integration gives you the option to leave the shovel’s handle behind and use the Venom LT instead. You save some weight with this substitution — 202 g — but it comes with two tradeoffs. You lose the extendability of the handle. And you’re now shoveling with a sharp pick that can easily tear clothing or worse.
This shovel/axe integration isn’t new. BCA’s Shaxe Tech package has been around for a while. It combines a more classic piolet with a shovel blade for nearly identical functionality. However, BCA’s Shaxe, which includes a full independent shovel and steel-headed classic piolet, comes in at $150 and 756 g, whereas the lighter weight Transfer LT and more technical Venom LT Classic combo will set you back $230 but only 648 g.
I like the integration of the Venom LT and Transfer LT, but I’d be very conscious about when and why I’m leaving the shovel handle behind. Avalanche risk would have to be minimal before I’d put my partner’s life on the line to save a few grams. An extendable handle adds a lot of efficiency while digging. I imagine my partner would want a say in the matter, too.
A replaceable pick is ubiquitous for ice tools, but it’s rare for lightweight all-mountain piolets. I’m a fan. A panicked rock strike shouldn’t send a $180 tool to the gear graveyard. The replaceable pick feature will add years to the lifespan of the Venom LT. Plus there are different hot-forged options to choose from, depending on your specific needs, and they’re easy to swap out.
Nearly all of the Venom LT Tech, except the pick, is built from aluminum, which is common for the piolet side of the spectrum. But most other tools in this class employ significantly more steel in the head. Weight savings always come at a cost — usually durability — and this could be where that tradeoff manifests. That said, I haven’t noticed any signs of premature wear, and the aluminum head has been rock solid so far.
The Venom LT’s spike is also replaceable, which is very rare. That’s a good feature with the Venom because I found that the spike deflected off hard snow and ice more than a traditional piolet spike. It’s a cone rather than something more akin to a knife blade as is typical. So, it requires a little more attention to the plunging angle to get it to stick. That means it doesn’t plunge quite as readily as something a little bit sharper, so replacing it once it gets dull will add security.
Many lightweight tools like the Petzl Gully utilize a cutoff shaft spike that’s both ultralight and sharp. They plunge into hard snow better than the Venom LT, but once they get dull, there’s not a lot you can do. So I think the Venom’s replaceable spike makes sense, but I’d love for it to be a little bit sharper, narrower, and/or longer.
Black Diamond Venom LT Tools: Conclusion
The Venom LT Tech is an ultralight, ultraversatile new ice axe system that will meet the needs of a lot of snow climbers, mountaineers, and backcountry skiers out there. It’s not quite an ice tool — it’s too light for that. It’s a technical tool that plunges well into steep snow, and it’s got the angles and features for ice and mixed obstacles.
The integration with the Transfer LT shovel is also stellar in the right contexts. The whole system is so light and compact that there is virtually no penalty for bringing it along on your next mountain mission.