Ski: 2015-2016 Armada Norwalk, 189cm
Dimensions (mm): 136-141-116-132
Actual Tip-To-Tail Length (straight tape pull): 186.7cm
Blister’s Measured Weight per Ski: 2,179 & 2,213 grams
Sidecut Radius: 21 meters
Boots / Bindings: Fischer RC4 130 Vacuum / Marker Jester (DIN 10)
Mount Location: Factory Recommended Line
Test Location: Taos Ski Valley, Monarch Mountain, Summit County, CO.
Days Skied: 9[Editor’s Note: Our tests were conducted on the 12/13 Norwalk, which was not changed for the 13/14, 14/15, or 15/16 season, except for the graphics.]
First, if you’ve been waiting for this review and you just want to read about how the thing skis, skip down to the “Groomers/Hardpack” section. (Kirill Povarintsev, this probably applies to you, and you probably deserve the ‘Most Patient Blister Reader’ award. Please don’t strangle me if we ever meet in person.)
A Word About the Armada JJ, TST, and Norwalk
I’ve always appreciated the JJ’s fresh snow performance, super easy feel, and lighter weight, but I didn’t love how it handled outside of predominantly smooth, consistent conditions. The JJ is excellent on groomers and in fresh pow, but I wanted more when it came to variable conditions and the older tracked powder you’ll always find in resort, and that you want to make the most of.
In that sort of stuff, unless I remained relatively light on my feet, upright, and wasn’t carrying too much speed, the JJ’s shovels tended to fold and flop. With a seriously tight sidecut radius and a short effective edge, it felt almost too easy to throw the ski sideways, let the tails wash, and get bucked around in crud.
All and all, the JJ is light and smeary when things are fresh, but I always wished that fun, friendlier feel could be translated into a slightly “chargier,” more aggressive package.
And that’s exactly what the Norwalk is.
Simply put, the Norwalk is a fatter TST, or a more stable, directional JJ.
Groomers & Hardpack
The Norwalk’s camber profile is basically identical to the Armada TST, a light, quick, all-mountain ski that really rails turns on groomed snow. Not surprisingly since it’s a wider TST, the Norwalk also does well in firm conditions.
A 21-meter radius makes the ski pretty carvable for its size and width. At 115mm underfoot, the Norwalk feels a little reluctant to get up on edge if you’re not going very fast, but big high-angle carves are definitely doable with some speed.
I was a little worried that the relatively tight sidecut radius would make the ski feel unstable through longer carved turns—the sidecut might try to pull the ski farther across the fall-line than I wanted—but this wasn’t the case.
The Norwalk has a traditional tail and a lot of camber underfoot. These create a stable platform that you can press some real edge pressure into (either from a forward, more traditional stance while trying to crank the ski into its tightest radius, or by making longer, ripping carves). On groomers, I had more fun on the Norwalk when railing huge, fast turns, but it also makes quicker, skidded turns quite well.
Again, just like the narrower TST, the Norwalk has a lot of tip rocker that significantly shortens its shovel’s effective edge on hard snow. This frees up the forebody of the ski quite a bit, making it fairly easy to smear the shovel into slower, tight skidded turns on hardpack. You’ll still have to make a deliberate, strong turn to scrub out the ski’s full edge though its tail, but it definitely feels like the rockered shovel’s shortened running length makes this a lot easier than it otherwise would be.
The Norwalk is stable and powerful on groomers at speed. This is compared to a more sluggish, lumbering feel that some similarly sized but heavier and stouter skis can have (which I’ll compare to the Norwalk at the end of this review). However, the lighter swing weight and relatively nimble feel at low speed become even more noticeable when I got it in some fresh snow.
It started actually snowing in Colorado a couple of weeks ago, and Monarch Mountain has been getting hit fairly consistently with some heavy storm cycles. The scene is small and mellow with old, slow lifts and not a lot of vert, so if you want to get the hell out of Summit County for a change of scenery (and you can’t make it to Taos), head to Monarch on a storm day.
With 38” in 48 hours, a group of friends and I did, and it did not suck. Most of the untracked snow we skied in Mirkwood Basin was ~12” deep due to a little wind effect, but softer, more sheltered areas in the trees would let you sink into pockets of 24-inch-plus blower.
Moving through a mix of predominantly tight trees, the Norwalk was surprisingly quick to pivot and swing across the fall line. If there is a distinctly JJ-esque part of this ski, it’s the option of getting a quick and easy smear from the shovel.
When I did happen to pick up some speed in more open pockets, I could make a very quick move to throw the ski sideways as long as I was fairly deliberate about it. It’s not at all hard to dump speed or slash the tail out on the Norwalk, as again the ski does feel light and very willing to turn in powder. But it’s only going to if you really tell it to.
Float was never a problem on the Norwalk. Even in those deeper pockets when the shovels were well submerged, the generous splay and tapered shape let them track and glide really well, while the tails kept things supportive and in line with the tips.
There the JJ, or any relatively light powder ski with some tail rocker, will feel immediately more playful and won’t require a more traditional stance to really stay on top. If you’re not using the “short” shovel to intentionally press the tail out, the Norwalk is happy cutting very smooth longer turns. The tail never felt all that stiff in slightly heavier snow or when I wasn’t carrying much speed, but it definitely demands that you be ready to make a strong turn. Otherwise, as I’ve said, the tail will push back and the ski will more readily make larger and faster turns down the fall-line in fresh snow.
That supportive, fairly poppy, but not harsh flex of the Norwalk—particularly in the tail—makes it great on landings if you’re a little lighter like me, or just don’t need the stiffest, dampest board out there.
A bit more about the ski’s flex:
Armada provides a Flex Pattern rating for each of their skis, which is something we’d still like to see every company provide. It’s a relative scale, of course, but it is helpful to see how a particular ski measures up against the rest of a brand’s line.
Armada rates the flex of the Norwalk’s Tip, Waist, and Tail as 6, 7, and 6.5, respectively, which is exactly how they rate the flex of the TST and the JJ.
Not surprisingly, I feel the same way about the flex of the Norwalk as I do about the TST. As I’ve already said, the tail is not soft by any means, nor is it terribly stiff—firm and supportive, but still somewhat snappy. I’m not surprised to see that Armada rates the Norwalk’s tail the same as the JJ’s, but the difference that a traditional vs. generously rockered tail makes is huge, and ultimately more important in my mind when it comes to chop/crud stability.