“When it comes to heavy metal rocking with a free heel there is no more powerful binding75mm on planet tele than 22 Designs Axl.”
Whatever your reason for sticking with a duckbilled boot, if you want power to spare with a free-pivot for earning your turns 22 Designs’ Axl is the binding you want. Hammerhead set the high water mark for an active binding at the turn of the century. Axl added what Hammerhead missed but kept the muscle with an ingenious adaption of the underfoot cable routing that allows a free pivot for touring.
Axl’s range of motion in tour mode is a solid 45°. A few degrees less than a Switchback, but 45° is still plenty good for uphill strides and sharp switchback kick-turns.
In the right conditions AXL can and does ice up. Snow can build up on the underside of the toeplate, and with enough time, get packed into ice. Even though it may ice up, usually the mode switch still moves, but the toe plate doesn’t get low enough for the latch to grab it. This means exiting the binding to chip the ice off. A dab of silicone grease on the locking tab and heads of the screws can reduce this problem.
A more common phenomenon is for a small bumper of ice to build under the duckbill. When this happens it reduces the unrestricted 45° range of motion by 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. It’s a minor complaint for the rest of the performance offerings.
While 40° is a noticeable limit to ROM, especially to those who like to make jack-knife sharp kick turns, outside of this maneuver you’ll hardly notice. For the purposes of simply breaking trail in deep snow 40° is plenty, especially if you prefer a competitively angled skin track. Most folks do so few will notice this limit. I’m a meanderthal, I notice. It limits the length of my stride on the flats reminding me how inferior teleboot cuff range of motion is compared to AT boots.
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 forward 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 the O1’s mode switch is still 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’s probably iced up. If your ski pole tip isn’t metal, you could break it if you try to force it.
For years the classic Hammerheel was the basic climbing post offering. It came 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. In 2020 the Hammerheel is replaced by the Double-Up with two climbing posts and the spring mechanism already pre-assembled. Those who prefer the high climbing post will be disappointed, all others will appreciate the choice of two climbing wires in a single heel post. The two wires lift your heel 24mm or 47mm corresponding to approximately 7° and 13° climbing angles.
I’ve heard of these U-shaped wires bending while slamming your ski to hold an edge on an icy traverse but adjusting your skinning technique could resolve this issue too. The other option would be to use ski crampons.
As ever, the only problem with ski crampons is you only need them when you don’t have ’em, and never need ’em when they’re in your pack. Even so, worth having if you do much spring touring in case you’re lucky enough to remember to pack ’em when you need ’em.
Where the AXL really rocks is in the power it offers. 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, then slide back in the slot you prefer.
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 back 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 (¼-inch) forward. 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 using it just to position the heel post 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 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 and going 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.
MSRP: $370 – BUY AXL HERE
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
Optional springs: Stiffy springs ($35)