I’m so impressed with the Axl bindings from 22Designs, I don’t know where to start. The design is simple, yet completely functional. It just goes to show not every new gizmo on a ski needs to be complicated.
The toe piece that we’ve all come to know and love on a telemark binding has a hinge at the top, and a mechanism underneath that locks or releases that toe-piece “plate”. Above the hinge lies a metal tab seated in heavy-duty plastic, with a notch for the tip of a pole. Pushing the notch in releases the toe-plate, and pulling it out locks the toe-plate in place. An idiot novice backcountry tele skier like me can figure it out, and remember how to use it when pooped at the top of a long hike.
A few years back 22Designs moved it’s trademark “hammerhead” spring-loading system to underneath the boot. There are now 2 springs in the system, and they rest flush with the ski just below the toe plate, in between the heel plate. It’s an excellent use of space, and has not compromised the stiffness and performance of the binding at all. My “resort” setup is on a set of old Hammerheads, and I feel they both perform equally well in all conditions. Instead, the locking/unlocking “tab” is in the same placement where the Hammerhead spring used to be, at the top of the toe-piece. Even with the toe-plate releasing for full skin-up movement, when locked in, the binding utilizes the full spring-loaded system for maximum control in turns and transitions. I have not noticed any change in this aspect of the binding at all, which impresses me. By the looks of it, it seems there are so many areas where the components might not mesh and something goes wrong, but it doesn’t, and virtually every time.
The best part about the binding is that it’s been nearly bomb-proof all season long. Only twice in the last 2 weeks did the toe-plate clog with snow. This definitely had to do with the heavy, slushy snow conditions, and not necessarily the binding. I was skinning in some pretty heavy, thick areas for various foolish reasons. Although frustrating, removing the snow was easy, once I saw where it was clogged underneath the toe-plate.
Counter that with my ski pal who has an AT set-up that would freeze often when we went out this season. It worked great in the lower elevations, but as we hiked higher and/or a storm came in dropping temperatures, his heel-piece froze. It was very difficult to un-freeze this section of the binding, and completely prevented him from locking his heel in. In the case of the Axl, worse comes to worse I can still fake-a-mark my way down a run with the toe-plate in full hinge mode. My boot would still be “locked” in with the cable heel lever. I really appreciated this versatility as I skied down to the first bench while my pal was just stepping into his ski.
The Axl never froze up on me in cold conditions, or deep powder. No matter how think of a pile I had to break trail in, or how much was dumping as I geared up at the top of a run, the Axl performed it’s toe-plate locking with ease. It was only thick, Spring snow that got stuck in the locking mechanism. It came out easily with my gloved finger. I definitely recommend the Axl for any skier who wants the advantage of full toe hinging like an AT setup, but wants to remain Bad-ass and Old School with their graceful telemark turns in the backcountry pow. The Axl provides all the quality one expects from 22Designs, and new, versatile functionality to make skinning easier.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be the “hard charging” telemark backcountry skier that the company claims they built the Axl for, but I sure do appreciate elegant, functional design that makes my skinning easier, and for that the Axl definitely delivers. In fact, owning such a “hot dog” binding inspires me to improve my skiing. It’s pushing myself to my personal best that makes skiing fun, and I’m glad I have equipment like the Axl to keep me on my toes.
(Doh! I couldn’t resist!)