So Blister Gear Review is down in Las Leñas for fifteen days, testing 8 of this coming season's skis, including the new Volkl Katana, Black Diamond Megawatt, MOMENT PB&J, and others. Figured some people here might be interested in the new Armada AK JJ.
Dimensions (mm): 131-141-120-138-128
Boots / Bindings: Lange RX 130 / Marker Jester (DIN 10)
Mount position: Factory Recommended (-5cm of true center)
Test Location: Las Leñas
Days Skied: 2
Me: 5'10, 185 lbs. 37 years old, proficient skier.
A few seasons ago, I spent 70+ days on the Armada JJ, and always felt that the ski was very intuitive and fun. They were poppy, extremely easy to pivot, carved well on soft groomers, kept you alive on ice, and worked great in bumps (especially for a ski that is 115mm underfoot). The JJ was a fantastic tree ski with a pretty large sweet spot. Unlike some pintail ski designs I’ve been riding, the JJ never felt like I was on a rocking horse, constantly fighting to stay balanced.
In wet, heavy snow, the tips of the JJ would sometimes dive, but that is true of a lot of today’s forward mounted skis. They’re fantastic for spinning, but the even swing weight of a forward mount will increase the likelihood of tip dive. That isn’t a flaw so much as an intentional design tradeoff—a calculated balancing act of performance characteristics.
But I’d always wished that the JJ was just a bit longer and just a bit stiffer. I felt that a slightly burlier version of the JJ would improve its performance in heavy chop (the original JJ was already very good in cut up soft snow) and the additional surface area would help its flotation.
Enter the Armada AK JJ.
We woke up to a bluebird day at Las Leñas, with 360 degree views of staggeringly impressive mountains. It had snowed 30+ cm on Saturday, there had been a bit of rain at the base Sunday night, and most of the resort was open this Monday morning.
We did a number of laps off of the Cenidor chair—wide open terrain with beautiful, windbuffed snow at the top, and thick, wet, chopped up snow lower on the mountain. At the top, the AK JJs were like an enhanced version of the original JJ: fairly stiff underfoot, with a tail that will finish a turn and won’t wash out prematurely.
However, when carrying a lot of speed in the thick, heavy chop of the lower mountain, I definitely found myself leaning back on the AK JJ, not quite ready to trust that the significantly rockered tips wouldn’t slam into the wet chop and toss me over the handlebars. In such conditions, pronounced tip rocker gets a little tricky. I might prefer a tip with a less dramatic amount of rocker that would cut through chop rather than hit it like a snow plow.
Later in the day, however, we were skiing the Pala (“shovel”) del Volcano. The snow was still thick and wet, but it was untracked, and in these conditions, the AK JJ shined. “Surfy” was the word, for sure. The rockered tip planed beautifully through the untracked, and the tails were easy to release, but not so loose as to wash out unintentionally. The skis were impressive in this stuff. And in light, deep snow, I’d bet heavily that the AK JJs would be a dream. (The forecast is calling for another meter or two of new snow over the next couple of days, so I'll be sure to update when things get deep.)
On groomers, the AK JJs are almost as capable as the JJs. Fun, predictable, and they inspire a lot of confidence at speed. They might not be as easy to shut down as the original JJs, but we’re talking about a 120mm waisted ski here; stopping quickly on hardpack isn’t exactly a quality anybody ought to get too hung up on with a ski like this.
Given its additional surface area (both width and length), the AK JJ will float better in powder than its smaller brother, but Armada certainly hasn’t tossed out the playful design qualities of the JJ to create some entirely different monster in the AK JJ. The AK JJ is more stable than the JJ, but it isn’t a chop-eating beast. There is an unmistakable family resemblance between the JJ and the AK JJ.
My first impression of the AK JJ is that, like the JJs, they surf more than they charge. but we’re definitely going to spend more time on them so as to round out these initial impressions, and possibly overturn them.
More on the AK JJs tomorrow….
Yesterday morning at the Innsbruck, I was halfway through my café doble when Pablo walked up and gave us the word: “Marte is spinning.” Will, and I started to nod, then we all began to smile. We quickly downed our coffee, turned on and tested our avi beacons, and threw on our backpacks and skis.
At the top of the Marte chair, we followed Pablo in flat light over to Mercurio, where he dropped into the wide entrance to check the snow quality. After watching him make the deliberate turns of a backcountry guide, Will and I followed suit. Here, I began to have a new appreciation of the Armada AK JJs.
Yesterday on the lower portion of the mountain in the late afternoon, we encountered the South American version of Sierra cement. Attempting to charge through that stuff was tricky. (See that whole bit I mention above about the shovels getting slammed into the chop, and the rider—me—getting bucked.)
But now, in this drier snow at the top of Mercurio, making deliberate turns at moderate speeds, the AK JJs were incredibly easy to ski and performed exactly as I wanted them to. They initiated turns down the fall line with the slightest amount of encouragement. They held an edge for as long as I wished, yet would allow me to release and slip an edge as soon as I wanted. With the AK JJ (much like the original JJ) the skis don’t require much forethought and are ready almost immediately to carry out any maneuver.
If I wasn’t sold on the AK JJs ability to charge through chopped up, wet cement—conditions that would be difficult for most skis on the market—I realized today that for people who aren’t interested in maching their way down the mountain, the AK JJ is an extremely capable, intuitive ski, and doesn’t require a ton of speed or input to perform well.
After another day on the AK JJ, I would upgrade it’s hardpack performance from very good to excellent. I’ve been trying to think of what other 120mm underfoot skis with tip and tail rocker would outperform the AK JJs on hardpack, and nothing comes to mind.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay the AK JJs is that I won’t be skiing them tomorrow, and I’m not entirely happy about that. Even though no new snow is being called for overnight, I’ve already developed enough confidence in the AK JJ to continue to ride it even as conditions continue to firm up.
If you weren’t a fan of the original JJ, I doubt the AK JJ will suddenly become your go-to ski. On the other hand, if you liked the JJs but thought they could be improved, you’ll certainly like these, and the most important issue for you is going to be deciding whether you really want or need the extra length.