When it comes to heavy metal rocking with a free heel there is no more powerful binding on planet tele than 22 Designs Axl. It is possible to make the TTS or NTN binding more powerful but actually I shudder that you should need any more tele-resistänçe than Axl delivers. Put another way, if you need more tension than this binding adds to your boot, you probably ought to just lock ‘yer heels.It has taken a few years to prove out but even the minor weaknesses of the most popular backcountry tele binding, BD’s O1 become significant when you factor in the level of power available with the Axl. Hammerhead set the high water mark for an active binding over a decade ago. Axl added a free pivot, but kept the HH DNA with an ingenious adaption of the HH cable routing that allows the touring pivot.
This is not to say that Axl doesn’t have some weaknesses of its own. Nothing is perfect, but like O1′s, these imperfections are easy to bear. Besides, who would argue with the combination of Hammerhead power and adjustability with an easy to engage free pivot for earning turns?
Axl’s range of motion in tour mode is a solid 45°. No worse than a Fritschi Diamir Freeride, and about the same weight. 45° is plenty good for uphill strides and kick-turns.
However, the AXL can and does ice up. In my experience this is rare, but I don’t doubt the reports that ice can build up on the bottom side of the toeplate, similar to what happens with the O1. The latch still moves, but the toe plate doesn’t get low enough for the latch to grab it. This will require exiting the binding and throwing a few curses at it while you chip the ice off. Rare for me, but YMMV. A dab of silicone grease on the locking tab and heads of the screws should reduce this problem.
A more common phenomenon is for a small bumper of ice to build under the duckbill. Those dang ducks! It reduces an unrestricted 45° range of motion another five degrees, to a noticeably limited 40° ROM. In wet snow this happens a lot. It cleans off easy, but in a perfect world I wouldn’t have to. A minor complaint for the rest of the performance offerings.
Pivot Bolt Issue
The locking bolts on the pivot are known to loosen up on pre-2010 versions. If you have this issue, 22 Designs is adamant that you NOT use Loctite™. You will reap bad juju if you do this. Use a slow cure epoxy instead and if possible, a low viscosity epoxy so it easily coats all the threads to really lock it on.
Switching modes is quite easy and reliable with this binding. I like the level of resistance it offers to changing modes, and the act of levering your ski pole fore for turning, aft for earning is simple. It is easy to find and stick your pole in it when it is covered with snow. While I’m on record that O1′s mode switch is the easiest there is, the Axl switch is arguably as easy, and while not immune, is less prone to icing. Be aware, however, that if the switch is hard to move, it probably is iced up and if your ski pole tips aren’t metal, you will break ‘em if you try to force it.
For reducing the angle of attack Axl keeps the spring loaded climbing peg design of the Hammerheel. Hands down the easiest climbing peg to engage that I know of. It comes in three heights to provide 1¼” (32 mm), 1¾ (45 mm) or 2¼” (57 mm) of heel lift for flattening out the uphill skin track. The shape of the heel shim is modified to make room for the dual-underfoot springs, but otherwise it’s the same old Hammerheel.
I’ve heard of these U-shaped wires bending while slamming your ski to hold an edge on an icy traverse so it would be nice to see 22 Designs come up with a solution to this. Even so, perhaps merely adjusting skinning technique could resolve this issue too. The other option would be to use ski crampons.
Perhaps that’s the only item missing from the Axl package – ski crampoons – to make it a complete ski mountaineering package. I’ll bet 22 Designs could do something that hooks on with a longer Slic-pin. (Update 2013: Axl Ski Crampons now available!)
Where the AXL really rocks though, is in the power it offers to control your skis. In the 75mm realm there is no beefier binding. BD’s O1 with rid stiff springs is similar to Axl #1, but Axl #2, let alone #3 are undeniably stronger, even than its older brother, Hammerhead. Not by much, but if you bother to do a side by side comparison you can tell the difference after a few runs. And the adjustment is easy, from high tension to sick tension. Just move the Slic-pin. Press the spring loaded nub on the end with a fingernail and pull it out. The original pins were prone to bending, but 22 Designs has beefed ‘em up. There remains a very small ‘neutral’ spot with the Axl caused by the amount of heel lift your boot may add due to rocker on the toe of your boot. You could argue that this isn’t the fault of the binding, and in fact the hysteresis in the sole of the boot is why there is any heel lift at all when unweighted. But it is there, so the springs add nothing to the first 2° or so of heel lift. The resistance you feel is what your boot provides. You certainly won’t notice this dropping a knee; you might notice it in parallel mode depending on how much your duckbill turns up.
A number of people have noticed that the tension in the springs of the Axl are rather stiff out of the box, but they will relax a bit after a few days use at a resort. So by all means, do not judge the resistance of these bindings until you’ve logged at least 40k vert of turns on ‘em.
Axl is not the lightest binding on the market, nor is it alone. At four pounds per pair it easily meets the criteria of the bigger is better crowd, not only providing plenty of turning power, but with a dominance of steel in its construction and a minimum of plastic, plus a six-hole mounting pattern, durability is a feature 99% of users can count on.
Although 22-Designs was able to keep the six-hole pattern, pin line on the toe plate is shifted forward relative to the Hammerhead mounting holes. If you’re swapping Axl’s for Hammerheads and you want the exact same pin-line reference you need to drill new holes 5mm back. However, 5mm isn’t much and if you just swap bindings I doubt you will notice. If you’re drilling in new skis, by all means, adjust accordingly.
For the overly aggro skier, despite the reputation for a 6-hole pattern holding up to abuse much better than a 4-hole, I would still recommend using inserts, at least for the two rear mounting holes.
Though a jig is always recommended, a mounting pattern is available as a printable PDF from the 22 Designs website. It is worth it just to use for positioning the heel post correctly so the heel throw tucks behind it, under the climbing peg, when you’re shouldering your skis and don’t want the cable flopping around.
Four buckle boots paired with Axl’s is a no brainer. The effective pivot point of the cable goes from aggressive to radical, for help with flexing a stiff boot. And with smaller, softer boots, Axl simply adds the horsepower a smaller boot lacks. So no matter what boot you have, if you’re driving fat boards fast, Axl delivers the kind of control that says lock in, drop your knee, hold on and shut up! Few skis or conditions can withstand the bridle Axl delivers. With an easy to engage free pivot, Axl’s are ready to go wherever you want to take them. Bumps, cliffs, and powder stashes in bounds, out of bounds or the backside of beyond.
Weight: Standard – 4.0 lbs. (1810 g) • Small – 3.8 lbs. (1724 g)
Size range (mondo): Std for 25.5 or larger, Small for 25.0 or smaller
Riser height: 1.1″ (28 mm) w/2° ramp angle
Optional springs: Stiffy springs ($35)
Axl issues per ttips thread
Axl spring beta per ttips