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2013-2014 Armada AK JJ, 195cm

Jonathan Ellsworth reviews the Armada AK JJ, Blister Gear Review

13/14 Armada AK JJ

Ski: 2013-2014 Armada AK JJ, 195cm

Dimensions (mm): 131-141-120-138-128

Actual Tip to Tail Length (straight tape pull): 193.2cm

Weight Per Ski: 2350 grams / 5.18 lbs.

Boots / Bindings: Lange RX 130 / Marker Jester (DIN 10)

Mount position: Factory Recommended (-5cm of true center)

Test Location: Las Leñas

Days Skied: 2

[Editor’s Note: Our review was conducted on the 11/12 AK JJ, which is unchanged for 12/13 & 13/14, except for the graphics.]

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

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.

Vulcano area, Las Leñas

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.

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….

UPDATE:

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.

I promise to write more about Marte, soon. For now, I’ll just say that we quickly downed our coffee, turned on and tested our avi beacons, and threw on our backpacks and skis.

Jonathan Ellsworth, Eduardo Variante, Las Leñas.

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.

For Part 2 of Jonathan’s review, “Armada AK JJ – pow performance,” click here.

21 Comments

  1. Kyle August 29, 2011 Reply

    Hey there.
    I’ve been wanting a set of jj’s for the last two years, and now that I finally have enough money; i will be buying pow skis for this season. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the JJ; only bad thing i’ve heard it that they’re too short. With the AKJJ coming out this year, Im pretty set on which JJ i’d be buying.

    Recently I’ve been talking to techs, reading reviews, and talking to people who have skied the JJ’s. And many have said that the JJ is fairly stiff, and that when its in the pow, its best in really light, fluffy fresh snow. Some have said that the industry changing “elf shoe” can actually get caught up in the snow, and kind of slow you down. Other than that, all say that its a great ski, and that it can be skied all across the mountain. And if your tall, and ski big open faces; you should go for the AKJJ.

    After learning about the JJ, AKJJ, people have said to check out the Bibby Pro by Moment Skis. They say it does everything the JJ line can do, and excel in snow with more moisture. (Heavier snow). I also like the Bibby Pro for the sizes that they have. I don’t think I would want to go for the massive AKJJ, because I don’t plan on dishing out the money for heliskiing, or hiking BC for massive untouched faces where the AKJJ is at its finest. The 190cm Bibby Pro seems to be the perfect size for me.

    I’m 6’3 180lb, and still growing. I ski alot of different terrain, but am quite aggressive when there’s fresh pow, and the conditions are perfect. I ski alot at Whistler, and do a little bit of hiking. But love to hang in the trees, and huck drops. I also ski at alot of smaller local resorts (Grouse, Mt. Baker, Cypress, Hemlock; which tend to have alot of heavy, dense, wet snow). And I’ll take a few trips to the Kootenays (in British Columbia) each year.

    Please give me advice!!
    Cheers

  2. Author
    Jonathan Ellsworth, Editor in Chief, Blister Gear Review August 30, 2011 Reply

    Hey Kyle, sounds like you’ve received some good advice. First, I wouldn’t worry about the difference between the 190 Bibby and the 195 AK JJ. The AK JJ actually measures just over 193cms, or just slightly more than 1 inch longer than the Bibby Pro. If the 190 Bibby isn’t too long, then the 195 AK JJ won’t be too long, either.

    The thing that jumps out at me most is your talk about “heavy, dense, wet snow.” If this is what you’re skiing in, then I would have to recommend the Bibby over the AK JJ. I have trouble imagining a more fun dry pow ski than the AK JJ, but the soft shovels – especially in tracked snow – do fold more than the stiffer shovels of the Bibby Pro.

    Truth is, you’ll probably have a blast on either. But for heavy, wet snow, I’d have to give the nod to the Bibby.

    You’ll have to let us know which way you end up going, and definitely tell us what you think!

    • Kyle August 30, 2011 Reply

      Yea for sure. I’ll do a little review once I’ve been on them for a bit. The Bibby pros are in the mail.

      Cheers
      -kyle

    • Kyle September 17, 2011 Reply

      Whats a good spot to have the bibby pros mounted? I’m thinking -1.5cm from center? I ski a little switch, but like a big tail to stomp with. Using marker jesters.

  3. Blister Member
    Hannes May 30, 2012 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    Now that Armada will go a bit “moment” in 2013, offering – as you put it – not only milk or chocolate, but some in between flavours with the Bubba, Magic J, Norwalk and AK JJ, is there any chance that you will take the 2013 Armada Norwalk (189) length to Argentina this summer? I was pleasantly surprised with the 183 TST which I have skied quite a few times this April. It is a light, nimble, snappy and quite stable ski with good edge hold that excells in steps, tight spots, moguls and boot-packing or touring adventures (I actually also found it released and slarved reasonably well, despite a decent amount of camber). Yet, I found that the TST has some “limitations”:

    1. In the 183 length you do not have much ski in front of you. Ok, there is the 192 length for the bigger guys, but then you sacrifice the nimbleness and lightness and I would also find it too big for the backcountry purposes.

    2. I did not find it provided for the best landing platform and sometimes felt a bit off-balance (again probably due to the fact that there is not much ski in the front and also due to the relatively narrow waist with 102mm – and well, likely also due to the fact that I am not Seth or Hoji always landing my stomps centered).

    The Norwalk with a 116mm waist in the 189 length (probably “real” length 186ish) could be an awesome directional shred stick that retains some of the nimbleness of the TST combined with the more confidence inspiring attributes of the big mountain segment.

    In the event that you (or any of your fellow blister boys and girls) will test and review this ski, I would be grateful for any comparison to the Jaguar Shark (182 and 187), dps wailer rp 112 (184) and coreupt slasher (187). Thanks in advance for your input!

  4. Jeff M November 8, 2012 Reply

    Hey Jonathon,

    I’m trying to decide between the Armada AK JJ, Rossi Squad 7, or the Moment Bibby Pro. Ive read all the reviews and I probably cant wrong with any of these boards. Im 6’2″ 205lbs 50 yrs and mostly a resort skier (Kirkwood). My buddy bought a pair of JJ’s last year and he swears by them but he considerably shorter and lighter than I am so Im thinking the 185 may be a bit on the short side for me. I still ski aggressively and can hang with all but the best guys on the hill. Majority of the day is spent off-piste with the inevitable groomers thrown in when I need a break. Any thoughts you can give on which you think would be best for me would be appreciated. Love the site!

    • Author

      Thanks, Jeff. You’re right – you’re looking at 3 very cool skis. At your height and weight, my only worry is whether you’ll find the AK JJs to be stiff enough through the tips and shovels to handle thick, heavy pow and chop. I’ve never had issues with tip dive on the Bibby Pro or Squad 7. The AK JJ seems to me to be better suited (than the Bibby or Squad) for slightly lighter skiers that are skiing hard and are spinning – for them, the AK JJ seems perfect.

      But for Kirkwood, I’d recommend the more solid shovels of the Bibby or Squad, and you can read my review of the Squad 7 where I discuss those two skis directly. And let us know what you decide to do!

      • Jeff M May 10, 2013 Reply

        Jonathon,

        Just unwrapped my Bibby Pro 190’s. I know you’re asking “why are you just unwrapping them now”? Well, we had a really crappy year out here in Ca-VERY little snow from the first week of Jan. forward. I just decided that I was going to wait until the end of the season and see what deals I can find. Needless to say I found the right deal but now will have to stare at them until the snow starts flying again. Thanks again for your input.

  5. Timothy Jarvi January 9, 2013 Reply

    Jonathan,
    I’ve skied the 185 JJ since it first came out and really enjoyed them here in northern MI! I did take them to Jackson hole and found them to not be enough ski for me, 6’1″ 180lbs 48yrsold bicycle shop owner/rider skier/boarder, to keep them afloat/perform in the way I was hoping in deeper snow and bigger conditions. I’ve since picked up a pair of 195s and after reading your review I am wondering if you think mounting them back from “recommended” would be a good idea…
    Dig your site!
    Tim

    • Author

      Thanks, Tim. I didn’t get to play with the mount position much, but I think you might be on to something by going back a centimeter or two. At -2, I would expect a noticeable (if small) sacrifice in quickness, but it certainly should help combat tip dive. I can’t say you’ll love it, but I do think it’d be worth a try, and I have little concern about going back just -1cm. If you try -1 or -2, please let me know what you find.

  6. Timothy Jarvi February 9, 2013 Reply

    Jonathan,
    Thanks for your response an comments. I got the AK JJ home to MI and I’m heading them to Aspen tomorrow and then in two weeks to see your home hill, Taos. Winter is our slow time around here and most everyone takes a break during the cold months, so I’m gonna take two this year! Mounted the AKs back two and have skied them lapping short but steep(ish) trees at my hill, Nubs Nob, and they just totally flow. Very cool feeling: fast, smooth and a big smile. They’re also almost as fun and quick in the bumps as the 185 but what I miss there I make up in stability as things buck around. Idon’t feel like I might go over the front end. Not sure if this is the 195 size, the two-back mount or the combo.
    Well I’m packing tonight for the first trip and I’m discovering that the 195s don’t fit in the Armada ski bag (seriously?). Anyway, going to bring the 185s and thinking of having them moved back 2 cm while I’m out there… Will keep you informed.
    Thanks again for all your efforts here,
    Tim

    • Author

      You gotta buy a longer bag, Tim! Check out our reviews of the Dakine Concourse Bag (not that you have time now, but for future reference). And thanks for your feedback sounds like it’s working out well, and I think -2 on the 185s will be a good play – and maybe even preferable to your 195s for Taos, unless it keeps going off like it did today at Taos….

  7. Alex November 5, 2013 Reply

    I am 6.2 and 190. I am mainly skiing on groomers ,and I am just now going into the deep. I am looking for fun ,good float ,control,easy ride ski. I am not interested in maximum speed big lines.My choices: armada jj 185, ( but I am afraid how good will float,everything else I think will be fine), Ak jj. ,and the new volkl two at 186. I would appreciate your opinion very much because I am going to purchase one of them in the next two days the latest.
    Begging for a quick replay,
    Alex

  8. Victor VAILentine November 5, 2013 Reply

    Have any of you guys ever been on an ARG? or any other similar reverse sidecut/reverse camber ski? Im trying to decide between the bubba, which is basically a fatter JJ, and the old ARG. I can get good prices on both, and they would be reserved for extra deep days in the tetons, with 99 percent of their time being spent surfing untracked pow like 10 times a season. No groomer performance needed, maybe some chopped up pow, however mostly jackson hole boot packs/teton pass… What do you think?

  9. Timothy Jarvi November 6, 2013 Reply

    Alex,
    I own both and have skied both a lot. My 185 JJ i mounted on the line and I ski it here in the midwest all day long and it’s a blast both on groomed and off (I’m mostly off!). Super quick, very turny and just plain fun. I did take it Jackson and it felt small however. I tried to make it work for me but I ended up with the AK JJ and mounted it 2 back from the line. I my hands (feet) it’s the ski I was hoping it would be. Just like the JJ but not at all unwieldy like my other big boards (Salomon Rocker et al) and fun to ski all day. Maybe not an all day groomer ski though, there are better choice in a bigger ski, but for soft or deep, cut up, trees, out-west bumps it works!

  10. Frank December 17, 2013 Reply

    Hello Jonathan,
    Great site by the way. Love your reviews.
    Here is the picture: looking for a powder tree ski.
    East coast style of tree skiing, very tight and gets bumpy and tracked rapidly.
    Yesterday was typical, morning fresh 18-24 ins un tracked. Could feel some rocks and branches (still early season). Then looking for stashes venturing in the dirty woods.
    Afternoon everything is bumpy and jumpy. Some groomed here and there.
    I am 6’4″ and 225. Moderately agressive.
    I need something that turn on a dime and float for my size.
    Thinking about the Armada JJ 185 or AK JJ because of my size or the DPS 112RP 190 hybrid.
    What do you think.
    Will also get either a Cochise or Mantra for days after storms.

    Thank you
    Frank

  11. Joost January 6, 2014 Reply

    Hi,

    Skied the Armada AK JJ the last two days in the Spanish Pyrenees. First day snow came in later then expected. Conditions were icy, hard snow and no powder. Second day we had about 17 inch of snow. Because I thought to get 20 inch of fresh on both days I only brought the AK JJ’s hoping to only ski some powder.

    I am 6’1 and weigh 215 lbs, mounting point factory recommended

    My impressions were that the ski isn’t great on icy hard snow. They don’t hold an edge and because they are very light I found them unstable in those conditions. The ski’s, for me, had to be kept under control on bumpy underground and on hard moguls they aren’t great I thought. When ever I would hit a hard icy bump or an uneven underground I need a lot of energy to keep them under control in comparison to other powder ski’s that are a bit heavier.

    Because I was forced to ski on these ski’s under these icy conditions all day (didn’t bring any others) I really got to test them out. Of course this is a 120mm under foot ski, so icepack performance isn’t something you are looking for in a ski like this. But because many refer to the AK JJ as a one-quiver ski I want to share my impression that this isn’t the case.

    Other fat ski’s I’ve skied like the Rossi S7 or the Salomon Q105 (which is less fat) have better hard pack performance and hold a much better edge. Because these are a bit heavier ski’s then the AK JJ, to me they are easier to control as well because the AK JJ’s cost a lot of energy on hard icy conditions.

    On powder I totally agree they have a very surfy feel. When we got the (just) 17 inch of snow here I took them up for a ride and they were great and surfy. In here they performed better then the other ski’s I have skied. Haven’t had the chance to test them in any deeper yet, but I think, and correct me if I am wrong, that they get better the deeper and softer it gets.

    They like to charge in powder and the speed and stability they miss on hardpack and ice is totally there when you get into the deep. In deep snow they are great. But in my opinion this does make the ski more of a niche ski. When there is no new deep powder, when you have to tour to find powder and will come across crud or harder conditions, you are better off with a more all mountain ski I think like the Soul 7 or Salomon Q105. (Of the ski’s I have tried) that are more one-quiver ski’s and will cost you less energy to ski and won’t be as good in powder as the AK JJ, but will still perform great and much better in the rest of the conditions you will encounter.

  12. Blister Member
    Tom January 7, 2014 Reply

    I am 6’4 225lbs and ski in Colorado. I currently have a old pair of Volkl Karma for rock/ early season skis. I am looking at getting a new pair of skis and had to ask your thoughts. I am thinking about the Armada JJ, AKJJ, Norwalk, Ross. Super 7 or the Moment Exit World. I mostly ski at Vail and some cat trips or Silverton. I am not a big hiker so I am not worried to much about weight except at Silverton. I am a aggressive skier…like it steep and deep. Don’t launch anything over 15ft anymore and really don’t ride switch. How they handle on groomers isn’t that important to me. Could you enlighten me on what ski, size and binding might work best? Thanks a TON and your reviews are the best.

    Tom

  13. Quaid February 20, 2014 Reply

    Hey Jonathan,
    I have just recently started exploring the Backcountry and side country and need a ski and binding that can slay pow inside and outside the resort, but I don’t want something extremely heavy. I was looking into the armada jjs because of their versatility that I would use when returning back into the resort. Have any suggestions? I ski on 182 moment pbjs as my one ski quiver if that helps and I love it.

  14. Quaid February 20, 2014 Reply

    Oh and also I would want a ski that has about the same amount of tip rocker as tail rocker just like my pbjs

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