Rating: 5 / 5
Although Aluminum headed axes are all the rage among Ski Mtneers, Adventure Racers, and UL Backpackers, they do have some very specific limits.
They tend to have such light heads that they can be largely ineffectual for harder snow and ice and in fact, can just bounce off---disasterous in certain self-arrest and step-cutting scenarios. One doesn't dare accidentally hit rock in mixed conditions w/ an alum. adze or pick---it can break or be easily blunted. Finally, many of the lighter alum. headed axes have very thin heads (to save on weight) and tend to be uncomfortable to hold for any length of time.
I have found that the designers of the BD Raven Ultra (and the only slightly heavier Raven Pro) have achieved a certain golden mean in creating a steel headed axe that is relatively durable, is lightweight, well balanced and efficient as a good all-around mtneering axe suitable from everything from being a "just in case" axe for the fast moving UL backpacker tackling early season pass conditions and glissading down from Trail Crest (you know who you are) to the more demanding use of the rando skier descending down some ice to get to that sweet snow filled couloir and the general mountaineer on moderate ice and snow climbs. It is a B rated Axe. This is the lightest steel headed axe I'm aware of.
My 55cm axe w/ an Aircore Pro leash weighs in at 352 g. (12.4 oz.). this contrasts w/ the 8.8 oz. of the all- alum. Camp Corsa (60 cm. length)---the lightest B-rated axe out there--- and the even lighter and more expensive but potentially fragile and unrated ULA Helix "Potty Trowel" at 4.5 oz. in a 55 cm. For the reasons described above, I don't mind eating a few oz. in this dept.
The Raven Ultra has a very comfortable to hold investment cast stainless steel head and at the steeply angled bottom of 7075-T6 Aluminum shaft, there is a very clever steel insert that serves as the very durable spike. The shaft has a profile also calculated to be very ergonomic. As I said, the Ultra is well balanced and a pleasure to swing. The curve and angles of the pick contribute to an aggressive bite.
I can rely on this axe from year to year w/o unduly worrying that it might catastrophically fail on a long trip--using it for what it was intended for, of course. I give the Raven Ultra a 5 although I think it is a bit overpriced compared to the Raven Pro which only weighs 2/3 of an oz. more for $15-20 less. However, since I got a nicely discounted deal on the Ultra...