Update: Armada AK JJ – Pow Performance

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

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.

 

Las Leñas, 8.19.11.

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.

Marshmallow Land, aka, Eduardo Variante, 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.

The LL JJ ?

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.

Jonathan Ellsworth, Tercera, Las Leñas.

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.

34 comments on “Update: Armada AK JJ – Pow Performance”

  1. hi and thank you for the great review. How would you compare the ak jj and the moment bibby pro 190? I have a deal on a used bibby pro 190 but this ak jj is very tempting. I’m 6”4 190 pounds and I ski in the Alps, especially Monterosa.
    thanks a lot
    Federico

  2. Boax: A couple of us actually put some time on the Nordica Patron at Alta, we’ve just wanted to get a few more days on them before doing a write up.

    Our initial impressions were that the 185cm Patron is an excellent, burly ski, very reminiscent of the Bibby Pro. The Patron is fantastic in powder. It’s also VERY stable at speed on hardpack and good in chop (as good as the Bibby Pro.)

    The most noticeable difference between the Patron and the Bibby Pro was that the Patron felt much less lively, lacked pop. And while I suppose you could describe this as a ski that is more “damp,” it mostly just felt more dead.

    But this is where I think we need more time on the ski. The Patron is such a good ski overall, my hunch is that, if you’d never skied the Bibby, or simply rode the Patron for multiple days, you either wouldn’t know and wouldn’t worry about what you were missing, or you’d just never look back and would adjust to the ride just fine. Can’t wait to ride it again this season and either confirm or overturn these impressions.

  3. Federico: the 190 Bibby Pro is definitely burlier than the AK JJ, and is only about 3cm shorter on a tip to tail straight tape pull. The swing weight of the AK JJ is lighter – the AK JJ has small tips and tails, which is great for spinning. Both are very good on smooth groomers. The AK JJ is surfier than the Bibby in feel, while the Bibby charges MUCH harder, and is a much better chop ski. Both are phenomenal untracked pow skis. The shovels of the Bibby are definitely stiffer than the shovels of the AK JJ. Personally, I wished the underfoot stiffness of the AK JJs extended further out toward the tip and tail…In short, if you are going to be spinning airs, I’d be inclined to go with the AK JJs. If you want a ski that is very good in variable and chop, I’d go with the Bibbys. Both are good skis, but they’re definitely different beasts.

  4. thanks a lot. you definitely helped me. I’m leaning towards the bibby because we often ski variable snow here and sometimes things get nasty and you really need a ski with structure to get out of trouble.
    thank you very much
    Federico

  5. Jonathan,
    Your reviews are awesome. You have me second guessing my recent decision to by the AK JJ’s. I have been skiing the Volkl Chopsticks for the last several season but miss having something more versatile with camber underfoot for when the powder has been tracked out. I’m also 6’2″ 205 and the 185 chopsticks were manageable but not the ideal length. I was also thinking about the Super 7’s, and now you have we wondering about the Bibby Pro 196. I ski mostly in the Pacific NW and want something that is a solid powder, playful, and stable ski. I respect your opinion.

    Thanks.

  6. After spending the last few hours searching for my new pair of skis I found my way to your site and feel that someone with blister could help me out. I’m 6’4″ 240 lbs looking for a stable ski that can take me through fresh pow, moderate chop and a few groomers at high speed. I know I need something with length for my height and weight and have been looking at the the AK JJ, Bibby Pro/ Special etc. I’m currently in the PNW which has the tendancy to produce heavy snow with ample moisture. This seems to rule out the lighter tip and tail of the AK JJ, and lean me more toward the Bibby Special. So I need a tough, burly ski capable of fun in the deep stuff and blowing through the crud. Charging is more important to me than hucking. Thoughts?

  7. Great reviews, guys: I’ve directed several of my buddies to your website!

    I’m trying to wait patiently for the Patron review, but I’ve got a pretty killer deal lined-up. You mentioned the 185 Patron as being “burly.” I’m 6’4″ @ 190, and I’m looking for a pair of boards to tele most of the western resorts (Summit County, Jackson, Snowbird/Alta). Would the 193 be a bit much for a “newly advanced” (to use some of your past terminology) tele skier at my height/weight? Any of your input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Thanks for spreading the word, Creighton,

      Our reviewer Jason Hutchins has been getting more time in on the Patron, but that review likely won’t post till the beginning of March, when we get back from Japan and Jason can get a few more days in on the ski. As for the length, I think you’d be okay with the 193, but the bigger issue is that Jason has concerns about the low rise of the Patron’s tip. He’s found it easy to spear moguls or whoop dee do’s on the High T at Alta. (I didn’t have this experience, but I was skiing the Patron on a 20″ day at Alta….) Anyway, it’s a potential issue. But I wouldn’t worry about the 193cm length.

    • Hi, Bob – sorry for the delays. Our time on the Patron keeps getting interrupted, and I’m hoping that changes – starting Friday. I’m going to be putting time on Nordica’s Helldorado over the next week at Alta. It’s built in the same mold as the Patron, but with the addition of 2 (I believe) titanal sheets. I’m not certain whether I’ll have a chance to A/B the Patron and the Helldorado, but I hope to.

  8. I am looking for a pair of skis that would be good for the deepest days, back country, chutes, and trees. I would be skiing Utah mostly. The two skis I am looking at are the AKJJ and the Bent Chetler. Could you please shed some light on the difference between the two, and which would be better in different conditions. Also should I look for something wider for the deepest days like a gigawatt or armada bubba?

    • Hi, Spencer – really sorry for the delayed reply. Here’s the problem – I’ve only skied the 183 Bentchetler, not the 192. And that would obviously be the direct comparison to the AK JJ. And now that Atomic has purportedly stiffened up the tips and tails of the Bentchetler a bit, I am very, very interested in this ski. (The 183 was a very fun, noodly ski. Exceptionally good in deep pow, but a lot less good in variable.)

      In deep, untracked snow, I can’t imagine that you’d “need” more ski / surface area than the AK JJ—but I guarantee that you won’t tip dive on the Gigawatt, while that was a bit of an issue for me (at least) on the AK JJ when things got cut up: the tips are soft.

  9. I just wanted to take the time to thank you for all the killer reviews, you obviously know your stuff and I will be sure to check back in here before buying my next pair of skis! I just bought a pair of AK JJ’s and cant wait to give them a charge!

  10. Hey, I’m 6’1″ and 183 lbs. Do you think the AKJJs would be better for me than the 185 JJs? I skied a couple of days on the JJ’s and I loved them. And I don’t remember them feeling short, but reading a lot of reviews on the internet and especially yours I think I should go for the AKs. Also I got a sweet deal on both of them mounted with griffons 13. Do you think they will be suitable for my skier profile? I’m an advance skier, not pro, and like steep tree skiing, jumping off natural features and dropping small sized cliffs.
    Thanks in advance!
    Great job with the website, cheers!

  11. Hi I am a 6’4 220lb guy looking for a ski to get into pow and sidecountry with. Skiing a fair few European resorts this winter and looking for something that performs well on the groomers too as the weather here is less predictable. Would you recommend the AKJJ or is there something else?

    • Hi, Dan – without more info (your skiing style, skis you’ve liked / disliked), it’s hard to say, but I’m a little worried about how well the softer shovels will work for you at your height & weight. The Black Diamond Megawatt is good on hardpack and has stiffer shovels than the AK JJ, so that might be of interest. I also think the 191 Katana, 190 Bibby Pro, or 193 Blizzard Cochise could be worth a look

  12. Hi Jonathan. Thanks for the speedy reply. To fill in the gaps I am coming off a pair of Salomon Shoguns, which I admired the on piste performance of quite a bit. I’ve only been getting out of bounds the last two seasons and found them adequate for the moderate level of difficulty stuff I’ve been doing in European resorts. I am looking to get out of bounds quite a bit this season , but am not a ridiculously hard charging kind of guy, although I do like to go fast. It is pretty hard to get my hands on moment skis in Europe so I was also considering down skis countdown 2s. Does this change my options a bit? Thanks for all the advice

  13. I am torn between the 185 JJ and the 195 AK JJ. I’m 6’1″ 170lbs. 28 yrs old Based in Utah, I love flipping, spinning, and charging and cliffs.. These would be set up with a touring binding (probably Dukes). I have never skied either ski but have heard great things from friends. Sadly I work full time and can’t ski much anymore. I’ll likely get out 10 times this year. I’m wondering if having the AK will be too much for a touring set up. My legs aren’t like they used to be when I was going 50+ days per year. Some large skis require so much work to keep them in line. I don’t want to feel like I’m getting bucked around all day. With the added weight, width and length would you recommend sticking with the 185 for touring. I currently tour with 185 Rossi scratch BC’s (there’s no rocker). I’m obviously in dire need of a new setup. I would also be using this ski as my go-to resort ski. I’m a little worried the 185 will ski too short because the rocker but I’m afraid the 195 may be a little too long and wide. Thoughts.

    P.s. this is my first time seeing your site. You give a great review. Thanks for the info.

  14. This is one of the best reviews I have ever read. It sounds like you really had a blast in Las Lenas that day in august.. From the reading, it sounds like you have skied the 185 JJ but have you in fact?. With the original being lighter and narrower, and having a shorter sidecut, I figure the 185 is a fair amount more playful and nimble, than the AK. How does the flex on the JJ (specifically the 185) compare to say a Moment Deathwish, Rossignol Sickle, Rocker2 108, and other playful all mountain skis.

    Basically, could the 185JJ be used as a nimble all mountain jib ski, mainly for trees and jibbing off some natural hits in bounds and sidecountry? Is the JJ a “turn the mountain into your playground” kind of ski? An all mountain jib ski for western high snowfall resorts, for 80% off piste,10% cat track, 10% park? And hopefully extremely maneuverable in trees, as they seem to be by their design?

    • Thanks, Vail! I have put about 70 days on the JJs, but that was four or five seasons ago, so I’m hesitant to make strong comparisons. But they are definitely more playful and quicker than the AKs. The hallmark of the JJ was that it was relatively stiff underfoot, with pretty soft, very tapered tips and tails. I don’t know if subtle changes have been made to the JJs flex pattern since I’ve skied them, but I would be inclined to think that (back then) the JJ’s tips and tails were at least slightly softer than all of the skis you mention.

      And yes, the JJs are “nimble all mountain jib skis,” and phenomenal tree skis. They are not crud busters, but they have a great swing weight for tricks and trees and moguls.They will certainly be lighter and (even) quicker than the 190 Rocker2 108s. The Sickle will be the best in crud (though still not what I would call a crud buster), and the Deathwish will still probably be a little heavier and a little better in crud than the JJ. But you don’t mention crud performance, and I think the JJ will shine in the areas you want it to. But again, it’s been a long time since I’ve skied it. But recent enough to remember that it’s really good at what it was designed to do.

  15. Hey Jonathan, thoroughly enjoy your reviews! I am looking for your advice on my first pair of true powder skis. I am 6’3″, 200 pounds. I live in MN and make it out to the mountains for one or two trips a year, typically to the Bozeman area (big sky, moonlight, bridger) although I hope to expand my skiing horizons in the years to come. I am currently skiing the 2011 174cm K2 Rictors, which are great for the majority of skiing I do. The exception of course is when I am out west and happen to be blessed with a powder day! Here is where I would appreciate your advice. I am basically only looking at 1 of 2 skis because I have access to an exceptional deal…

    1) 12/13 195cm Armada AK JJ
    2) 12/13 183cm Volkl Shiro.

    I am more interested in the ski that will be a better powder, big mountain type ski since I have the Rictors for groomer conditions. Any advice is greatly appreciated! Thanks,

    Matt

    • Thanks, Matt. At your height & weight, I would be inclined to pick the AK JJ. I’m 5’10, 185 lbs., and I found the 183cm Shiro to be MUCH too short for me. So if you were choosing between the 195 AK JJ and the 193 Shiro, I think it could be a much closer call here.

      So I’d lean AK JJ, and if you are not skiing switch, I’d consider mounting 1cm behind the recommended line. Let us know what you decide to do and how it works out.

  16. Jonathan, i don’t ski switch and have purchased the ak jj what would be the benefits of mounting -1 cm as compared to on the line. im 6′ 170lbs

  17. Hi Jonathan,

    I have had the 185 JJ’s for the last 3 years and absolutely love them. I am 5’11 and 160lbs, and ski in both Europe and NA each year. I prefer trees and pillows to blasting big bowls, and love that I can still rip a groomer and play the side hits on my way back to the chair. Unfortunately I lost a ski last weekend. I am 99% set on sticking with the JJ’s, but very interested in the AK for a little more float and area underfoot.

    Any concerns with someone as small as me on the AK, or is it true how ‘short’ this ski rides? I love they idea of turning my confidence in this ski up to 11!

    Brendan

  18. I am a really big dude (6’7″ / 250) who has owned 2 pairs of AK JJs and LOVED them for BC backcountry pow / tahoe pow days. Great swing weight / super surfy / i like that the tails were a bit softer than other 190+ charger skis. Time for a new setup / trying to figure out where I can replicate the length / width / stiffness underfoot / swing weight / fun of the AK JJ.

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