Ski: Armada x evo ARV 96 UL
Length skied: 177cm
Actual length (Tip-tail w/ straight tape): 174.6cm
Measured weight (each ski): 1706g & 1722g
Mount: -1.5cm from true
Binding: Tyrolia Attack 16
Days skied: 7
Reviewer height/weight: 5'9, 135lbs
Review location(s): Saas-Fee
Conditions skied: Groomers, fresh snow, crud, jumps
evo has teamed up with Armada to create an ARV 96 that utilizes technology from the Tracer series, keeping the ski lighter than the regular ARV. They also offer a toned-down graphic that should appeal to those who aren't down for demon chickens. For me, this was a really interesting chance to ski two identical skis back to back, with only a change of core to differentiate the two. A lot of things are thusly very similar across the two skis, so elements of this review will borrow heavily from my review of the ‘regular’ ARV 96, but it’s also interesting to note that the skis do feel fairly different. Read on to find out how.
The new ARV 96 UL is identical in terms of shape to the regular ARV 96. It has a 96mm waist, fairly average for a park/all-mountain ski these days, a medium sidecut (19m at 177) and mellow tip/tail rocker. My ARV ULs had a touch more camber than the regular ski.
The construction of the Ultralight is where things change. The ski features a poplar/caruba core and adaptive ‘Xrystal Mesh’ for dampening borrowed from the Tracer series. The edges remain the 2.2mm impact edge and the ski is identical in all other regards to the ARV 96.
As a result of the core change, the new ARV 96 UL comes out approximately 200g lighter per ski and feeling a tad softer on hand flexing, than the regular ski. It’s still decently solid throughout though, definitely no noodle. I categorized the flex of the stock ARV as 6 - 7.5 - 8 - 7.5 - 6.5/10 from tip to tail. The Ultralight version feels similar underfoot, but slightly softer in the rest of the ski. I would rate the flex of the UL as 5.5 - 7 - 8 - 7 - 6/10, so really just a little softer throughout the fore and aft of the ski.
The shape and profile of the ARV 96 UL are the same as the regular ski, so many aspects of the ski remain the same. The turn radius feels quick and the ski transitions from edge to edge comfortably when carving. However, the lighter ski is also a damper ski, so the new ski provides far less energy from turn to turn than the original. The regular ARV is a poppy, energetic ski edge to edge, where the Ultralight is smoother and flowier.
I also found that I had a bit less stability behind the ski on edge in the hardest of conditions on the ultralight. The slightly softer flex made it a little easier to wash through the ski, and perhaps the lighter weight also contributed to that. I found that I had more of a tendency to lose control of the tips when driving the ski hard. 95% of the time I didn’t really notice the change, but there were small aspects of difference in the performance.
Testing out a cruddy landing.
However, the UL, despite being a lighter ski does feel better in both cruddy conditions and soft snow than the regular ARV. In crud, it’s the added dampness that helps. Neither ARV is a particularly great crud ski but the UL deflects noticeably less than its poppier brother. I also got to ski some medium depth pow days and was pretty surprised. I didn’t like the regular ARV much in soft snow at all. But this damper and slightly softer version seemed to be more conducive to soft snow conditions. The ski seems to flex more naturally into a smooth curve to float and also having less energy just makes it smoother to ski.
Overall, it depends on what you prioritize when it comes to ‘all-mountain’ that defines which of the two ARV 96s you’ll prefer. If you’re more of a groomer/hard snow skier, then the original is the more compelling ski, but if you’ll be using the ski in softer or more mixed conditions, then the Ultralight is a cut above. Combine that with the lighter weight and I think the ARV UL would make an interesting option for a skinny, playful touring ski for slushy spring days.
In principle though, the ARV 96 UL, like the regular ARV is essentially a park ski with some all-mountain chops. So how do they compare? Well, you can definitely feel the reduced weight of the ski in the air. The Ultralight feels more like a pure park ski than something verging into mid-fat territory. I’ve been riding the Faction Prodigy 1.0 as my primary park ski lately, which is a narrower ski throughout and when I switched to the regular ARV I could definitely feel that it was a chunkier ski, more akin to the K2 Poacher. The UL, however, felt pretty much the same as the Prodigy and other narrow skis. It’s not a huge difference functionally, it makes next to no difference to my tricks, but you can feel a difference in ease of rotation.
On landings, these skis feel pretty much identical to the original ARV 96, nice and stable. Yes, they are a touch softer but I never noticed it being an issue on jumps. There’s enough camber and little enough rocker that these just feel ‘stable’. On takeoffs though, you can feel the lack of energy from the lightweight core compared with the Ash/Poplar of the original. I needed to pop with more effort to create the same airtime. On the flip side, the UL felt smoother in transitions and you never felt you were being pushed in one direction or other by the energy of the ski. In general, I prefer damper skis, so I did prefer the UL in this regard. For buttering, the slightly softer flex helps, but the rocker on this ski is fairly minimal and they are still basically fairly solid, so they aren't the most buttery ski out there. At speed, you can definitely make it happen, but if it's a high priority, look elsewhere.
You gotta get your weight way out there on these, cos they don't flex that easily
Unfortunately, there are no rails in the park in Saas-Fee at this time of year, so I haven’t ridden these on metal but I assume they feel identical to the regular ARVs. They certainly have enough camber/taper to make 5050s and presses harder than on some skis and no doubt feel great for anything else. The lower swingweight would certainly make them easier than the regular ski for taps and spinning on/off.
On paper, these skis should have very similar durability to the regular ARV 96, which in my experience was decent. I had some issues with edge filler coming out on the regular ARV which didn’t materialize on the UL, despite doing a lot of buttering in the days I rode them. Neither ski had any signs of delamination which is pretty good for me on recent evidence. The edges aren’t the fattest out but they seem to hold up well, on other Armadas I’ve tried, though I didn’t ski rails on these so I can’t comment specifically.
The one concern with going for the UL over the regular ARV would be the core. Light skis are, as a general rule, less durable. However, the ARV UL felt just as solid to ride as the regular ski. My testing period didn’t amount to anything I would expect to break a ski, so I can’t really vouch for the durability of the new core either but my instinct was that it’s nothing to worry about.
The ARV 96 UL is an intriguing one because overall, it isn’t that different from the regular ARV 96. You get a cleaner (more grown-up?) graphic and shave off a couple of hundred grams per ski but the performance is quite similar. The lighter weight does make these a better pure park ski for me, and the dampness meant that I enjoyed them more because that is more to my personal taste than the super poppy core of the regular ARV. The weight also opens them up to being a useful touring tool for those who are into weight saving on that front, paired with a heavy-duty touring binding, they would certainly work as a resort/touring ski for the days that are less than blower.
The shape and flex still aren’t my favorite personally though, I just don’t love the ARV 96, be it the regular or the UL. Intellectually, I know them to be a seriously good option for a versatile all-mountain park ski but I have never quite gelled with them. I’d still strongly recommend them though, as they do everything well and most people that ski them seem to love them. The UL does, on balance, improve on the original for me and while I can’t comment on durability from my testing time, I would recommend them above and beyond the regular ski if you’re down to pay the extra.
If you have any questions about the ARV 96 UL, feel free to hit me in the comments and I'll do my best.
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