Editor’s note from Lou: Since I was just in Livigno, the Italian capital of the dropped knee, I thought we should throw a bone to you tele guys and gals out there (for the 5 of you that read WildSnow, anyway). Better yet, if your’e burnt out on hearing endless chatter about the crazy NTN system here is something more down to earth — or actually up the earth, as from what I hear this new binding tours better than NTN.
For those tele skiers who have been unwilling to abandon the smooth turning power of the Hammerhead (HH), even for the benefits of resistance free earning, the wait is nearly over. Axl, 22 Designs telemark touring binding, will be unveiled to the world next week at the Outdoor Retailer show. For those who want the best of both worlds, renowned power and easy earning, beta bindings will be available later this season.
With Axl the single underfoot Hammer-spring will be replaced by a pair that tuck under the boot, behind the toeplate. The boot never contacts the springs themselves, only the plastic housing holding them. With this configuration the sole rests on the tensioned cables allowing the sole of the boot to flex evenly for an equally smooth engagement of the spring.
Nearly every other feature that set the Hammerhead apart is retained in the Axl. The indestructible, unitary wrap-around stainless steel toeplate remains, as does the six hole mounting pattern, still the strongest telemark mounting pattern available and the only one unaffected with binding pullout problems that Lou so loves to blog about. Also retained, the finger adjustable heel yoke and heel lever. But the most important is the ability to easily adjust the power position of the heel cable. Axl will provide four different positions, roughly corresponding to HH#2½ through HH#5ish.
Axl’s pivot is located at pin line for efficient striding, and allows a full 50 plus degree range of motion, for unimpeded kick-turns in deep snow or steep terrain. Switching between modes is accomplished by pushing, forward or back, a latch at the front of the binding to switch modes from turning to burning back up for another lap.
If there is a bummer with Axl, it is the weight, tipping the scales at just under four pounds. Experience shows a free pivot more than offsets the extra weight it adds, and with luck the post-beta program version, i.e., the final version, will be significantly lighter.
Some history: Almost as revolutionary as the Hammerhead was the original beta test program. The young guns at 22 Designs decided to maintain that tradition. It is hard to argue with the results. It is the longest running unchanged design of the recent telemark revival to have undergone no major revisions.
At the time, Russell Rainey, inventor of the Hammerhead, couldn’t afford to deal with repairs. He had already experienced an overload with the Superloop. However, that experience taught him that real customers, those who expected to get their money’s worth, would tell him what was wrong and what he needed to fix with passionate honesty. So he partnered with his customer base and humbly invited them to join his demo team. 200 people did, which allowed him to get a finished design in the very next version, in time for December 2000. All those who paid full pop for the prototype binding received the final revision as a free upgrade.
(WildSnow guest blogger Craig Dostie founded Couloir Magazine, the first North American ski touring and backcountry skiing serial publication.)