A couple of backcountry tours gave me a better taste of the Axl’s performance in steeper and more variable terrain. I also loosened the binding’s cables around my heel, which helped soften the tension until I really needed it to kick in at the apex of my turn. Over the next few runs, I started warming up to the aggressive flex of the binding.
But the “Ah-ha!” moment didn’t come until a 10-inch day at Alta this year. At the top of the lift, I settled in to my first turn, and prepared once again to face the awkwardness. Instead, I suddenly found myself sailing down the mountain the same way I had on my Hammerheads; I could hardly tell the difference. The steepness of the terrain and the speed I was carrying suited these bindings much better than noodling turns down low-angle slopes. The Axl’s like to be driven hard.
The Axl also has a great feature that lets you adjust the pivot point of the binding in ski mode to one of three different settings. It’s not as fine-tunable as the Hammerhead, which comes with five settings, but it’s a helpful feature, nonetheless. I experimented with different settings, but ultimately decided that the middle hole was right for me.
I realize now just how much I had been missing without a free-pivot binding. For one thing, you have much more range of motion. A telemark binding without a free-pivot lets your heel lift only so far, maybe 30 degrees at best, until the binding’s cable is maxed out. But the Axl lets you lift your heel more than 50 degrees off the ski.
Plus, with the free-pivot design, there is also no spring tension, which means you aren’t fighting the binding on the way up. With no energy wasted in engaging the spring, each step takes you farther.
I don’t typically read instructions, at least at first, so I didn’t bother with the Axl’s. I definitely wish I had. After five minutes of prodding at the front piece on the binding with my hands and poles, trying to figure out how to engage the walk mode, my friends took off on the skin track without me.
Now that I have practiced a few times, I can switch quickly in and out of walk-mode by simultaneously pushing down and back with my pole on the latch at the front of the binding, and I’m good to go. Not a big deal, but worth noting if you want to have seamless transitions between modes—and if you happen to have jerks for friends who might leave you in the dust.
I have read that the Axl is known to have ice issues under the free-pivot plate when touring up, which makes it tricky to lock back into ski-mode. Utah is experiencing a warm and dry start to the season, so while I didn’t notice any icing, I don’t feel like I was able to properly assess that issue.
The Axls are also a little heavy. Mine, size small, weigh in at 3.8 lbs., compared to the 4.0 lbs. of the size large. But I am a firm believer that bigger and stronger are usually better, especially for most jaunts I take into the backcountry or sidecountry. However, if you are after long days of summit bagging and doing more hiking than skiing, you might decide that these aren’t worth the weight.
If, like me, you are switching from the Hammerhead to the Axl, you can use the same mounting holes, which is great if you want to reduce the number of drill holes in your skis. Do note, however, that your boot center will be a half centimeter farther back, though I didn’t notice such a minuscule difference.
Overall, the TwentyTwo Designs Axl bindings gets you uphill with ease, and gest you down with power and control—perfect for charging skiers who want to get into the backcountry and ski the resort with one binding that can handle any terrain thrown their way.