Ski: 2013-2014 Armada AK JJ, 195cm
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: 4
[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.]
(For Part 1 of Jonathan’s review of the AK JJ, click here.)
I’m going to tell you about the AK JJ, but in order to do so, I first need to tell you about 8.19.11.
There are certain days and dates that you simply don’t forget over the course of your life. For me, August 19, 2011 is now one of them.
I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great days on skis, and I’m definitely of the school that believes there’s little value in thinking too much about whether this day or that day was the Best Ever. Instead, it’s better just to be truly grateful each time out, to savor the pleasure and to acknowledge the privilege of being on the mountain—regardless of the conditions or how well you’re skiing.
But man, 8.19.11
Let’s back up for a minute. On Monday afternoon, August 15, the Santa Rosa storm arrived in Las Leñas, burst through the door, and made clear that she wasn’t going anywhere for a while.
It snowed and it snowed, then snowed some more. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, everyone around Las Leñas was skiing boot to knee deep pow on the lower part of the mountain, the visibility low given the weather system that was pounding us. You’d ski a line down Cenidor, learning to trust and to ski by feel rather than by sight. All around the mountain, you’d hear, “Man, when it goes clear here…” and the reply would be, “I know!”
There was no doubt. We were in the middle of the best storm cycle of Las Leñas’ 2011 season, and we knew that things were about to turn epic. People were scrambling to change their travel plans to stay down here for an extra couple of days. For lovers of the mountains, Las Leñas was about to become the center of the universe.
And then, on the 18th, having spent another morning and early afternoon skiing socked in lines of deep powder, the clouds broke.
The next morning, we’d have the whole mountain, freshly covered with almost two meters of snow, five feet of white.
Typically, residents of Las Leñas go to bed late, and the VLL club UFO Point doesn’t even get going till around 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. But not on nights like these, that usher in mornings like this….
The morning of the 19th, we got up early to find blazing bluebird skies and no wind. It was cold, and the mountains that had been socked in for four straight days were now visible under a crisp, pure light.
In my first review of the 11/12 Armada AK JJ, I wrote, “In light, deep snow, I’d bet heavily that the AK JJs would be a dream.” I was right.
We headed up Marte and over to La Pantalla. This is when things went fairytale, and we started calling the place Marshmallow Land. There was just enough moisture in the snow that all of the gold and deep brown rock was blanketed in thick white, as if someone had spread marshmallow topping over all of Las Leñas.
The snow was deep, untracked, and consistent, and the AK JJs were perfect. Ripping turns down La Pantalla, to Eduardo Variante, we were just astonished and giddy. Finally, as we hit La Pala del Vulcano, we just opened things up as fast as we could through massive fields of blower.
Armada’s AK JJ could just as appropriately be called the LL JJ—when it goes off like this in Las Leñas, I don’t think you can have more fun than being on a big, surfy ski.
In deep powder, the AK JJ performed as well as any of the excellent pow skis I’ve ridden, from the MOMENT Bibby Pro & Night Train, the Nordica Patron, the Black Diamond Megawatt, the PRAXIS Protest, the DPS Wailer 112RP. In untracked, the ride is exceptionally surfy and fun, and yet the ski still pivots easily for it’s length.
Coming into the entrance of Frankie’s, we were chasing the director of Las Leñas’ backcountry guides program, Claudio Margaride. Claudio wasn’t guiding at the moment, he just happened to see us at the top of Marte and yelled, “C’mon!”
We had just sat down the day before with Claudio and talked about some of the classic lines off Marte, and Frankie’s was a big part of the conversation. But today, Claudio showed us his secret entrance to Frankie’s, (“Little Arrow”) and we were just trying to keep up. Deep snow, quick hits, big slash turns, cartoon-like terrain.
Through it all, the 195cm AK JJ proved to be one of the most maneuverable 195cm skis I’ve ever been on. (A straight tape pull on the AK JJ actually measures around 193cm.) The relatively narrow tip and tails keep the swing weight of the AK JJs low, and I love the way those tips ride up and plane in untracked. That low weight, however, does create a bit of a shortcoming when it comes to snow with deep tracks.
The combination of those narrow tips and a soft flex through the shovel means that the ride through deep chop can get bumpy, and I was riding in the backseat a bit to keep the tips from getting slammed. By way of contrast, the 11/12 Black Diamond Megawatt owned deep chop: the large shovel, subtler tip rocker, and stiff shovel all combined to inspire a ton of confidence in tracked snow. But the Megawatt is more of a directional ski that isn’t as nimble as the AK JJ in very tight spots.
As for the AK JJ’s tail, huge props to Armada once again for finishing the ski off with a fun, pivoty, and supportive tail. Over the course of four days on these, there was no rocking horse action trying to find a balanced position on these things.
After Frankie’s, we headed over from Marte to Tercera. Tercera starts with a steep pitch at the top, where you have to billygoat some turns, maybe slide slip a little. Then you begin down a choke that widens as you make your way down the mountain, then narrows a bit before of the exit, onto a long, massive apron of untracked. It’s a great test for a big ski, and on this line, there is no ski that we brought with us to Las Leñas that I would have preferred to be riding.
I’ve heard a few people worry that the turn radius on the AK JJ is too small. But driving out of Tercera and on to the long apron below, this ski was happy to make huge turns going full tilt. But don’t take my word for it. I got my friend Danny Maniero, a backcountry guide at Las Leñas, on the AK JJs. When asked what he thought of them, he said, “Muy bueno. Cenidor, dos vueltas.” Yeah, two turns to take down Cenidor, which is about 1500 vertical feet. I wouldn’t worry about the AK JJ’s turn radius.
As I said at the top, I’m not really into declarations of Best Day Ever, but I have to admit that I kept wondering the whole day whether this was it. What I can say for sure is that, if you are at Las Leñas when it goes off, you are going to be asking yourself the exact same question. Most of all, be sure to have a big, surfy, playful ski that has no shortcomings in deep, soft snow. It’s the best way to enjoy the ride through Marshmallow Land.