How to Freeride | Our Expert’s Top Tips On Finding The Most Creative Line Down The Mountain

Freeride skiing is all about speed, fluidity and lacing clean turns down the mountain. Here's how to do it

Learning how to ski freeride and big mountain terrain opens up, we’d argue, the purest form of skiing; free from the confines of piste markers, race gates, or man-made features. The mountain is your canvas, and the skis are your tools for drawing the most exciting line you can and having as much fun as possible on the way down.

“It should look and feel like the most fun skiing you ever do”

Embracing all aspects of skiing, freeriding puts an emphasis on fast but controlled technique off piste. Using the ridges, gullies and rolls of the natural terrain, we can ski or ride a creative route (or line) down a mountain face. The best freeriders not only ski well, but instinctively manage all snow conditions and incorporate air-time, cliff drops, tricks, and spins, with solid landings and stomp-worthy style. Freeriding is all about finding your flow and moving with the mountain. It should look and feel like the most fun skiing you ever do.

Image: Samuel Ingles

How To Start Freeriding

If you can ski or snowboard, then you can freeride. You don’t have to be on the steepest and gnarliest big mountain slopes. It’s all about working with the terrain you’ve got and letting your imagination take over.

Freeriding could just mean blasting around and seeing what terrain comes your way, but if you want to improve your freeride skills, take a look at the judging criteria from the Freeride World Tour – the biggest and most prestigious freeride competition in the world. Riders are judged on their line choice, control, fluidity, air and style, and their overall technique. We’ve broken these down into the following steps for getting started:

  1. Choosing Your Line: First up, you need a mountain face. That could just be the terrain under the chairlift or off the side of a piste, or it could be somewhere more remote. The idea is to scout your route from below first. Choose a line down the mountain and then look for obvious features that will guide you on the way down, like gullies, rocks or trees. It takes lots of practise to get good at remembering and finding the line you chose at the bottom, but we’ve got a few tips below to help you.
  2. Stay in Control: Control is key for success (and survival). There are more obstacles and dangers off piste, so make sure you stay within your abilities, maintain control of your skis, and stay on your feet. The idea is to make the difficult, look easy.
  3. Fluidity: A continuous performance from top to bottom of a line not only looks great but feels great too. Try to ski your line without stopping, hesitating or unnecessarily traversing. It’s all about finding flow.
  4. Air and Style: If you’re ready to incorporate air-time think about how you can use the terrain. Look out for rocks, wind lips and cliffs, and work out how to include them in your route. How big can you go and how well can you link them together? (Remember most cliffs look a lot smaller from below than they really are up close.) If you can throw in a trick, that’s all the more style points.
  5. Tactics and Technique: The stronger your ski or riding technique the easier you’ll find it to deal with different terrain and snow conditions. Keep considering how you could improve your line… How was your sluff management? Could you have cranked a carve where you started to side slip? Were you in the backseat? All the skills you learn on piste will help you perform better off piste too.
Marcus Eder finding the flow in Alpe d'Huez. Image: Jordan Tiernan
Image: Samuel Ingles

Do I Need Different Skis To Freeride?

Freeride skis are designed to perform in deep snow, but also to cope easily with crud, crust, ice and slush. They will certainly make your life easier off piste and will still perform well on the piste.

Look for skis that are at least 90mm underfoot, with a tip and tail rocker to help you deal with deep or chopped up snow. They will also feel lighter and springier than a classic piste or all mountain piste ski, which should give you the pop you need for fun in the air.

You can check out our top freeride skis here

Image: Samuel Ingles

What Safety Equipment Do I need For Freeriding?

Skiing or snowboarding off piste is inherently more dangerous than on piste, but having the right equipment isn’t a substitute for knowing what you’re doing. In addition to the gear below, we’d advise you take the time to learn how to use it, understand snow and avalanche safety, and learn how to read the mountain weather forecast before venturing beyond any piste markers.

– Backpack with ski carry

– Transceiver

– Shovel

– Probe

– Back protector

– Helmet

You can explore some of our favourite avalanche safety kit here

Image: Samuel Ingles

Top 10 Tips For Freeriding

  1. Practise learning your line. Take photos of the face from below and try to visualise what it would look like from above, this will help you to successfully ski your chosen route once you’re at the top of the face.
  2. Get a pair of binoculars. It’s the freerider’s ultimate piece of handy kit for scouting out the next objective (and checking the size of those cliffs up close).
  3. Give yourself an exit strategy. Look out for chicken runs or options to escape off your line when you’re at the bottom, otherwise you might be hiking back uphill.
  4. Practise skiing all snow types. The best freeriders are comfortable in all snow. Get out in the crust, crud, slush, and on the ice and practise everything you would on the piste. You never know what the mountain might throw at you.
  5. Too many traverses will stop the flow. Try to choose as direct a route as possible that still incorporates the many features on the mountain.
  6. Get good at skidding and pivoting your skis. This will help you to shave off speed or change direction at a moment’s notice.
  7. If you take air, you will land at speed. Make sure you have a good run out below any rock drops or cliffs.
  8. Practise riding a single line again and again. As you improve and gain more confidence, try to go faster and add in more jumps or tricks.
  9. Practise chasing somebody else. This will help you to keep moving no matter what, help to improve your reaction times, and help you to get better at dealing with the unexpected.
  10. Get someone to film you. Not because it needs to go straight on Instagram, but because watching yourself will give you a great idea of how your performance looks as a whole and where you could improve on all the points listed above. At the end of the day, it’s all about looking cool.

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