Written by James Cooper
Last Updated

There are many different types of snowboarding around and which one you prefer will depend on your own personal style and enjoyment, but you may well have come across the term “freeride snowboarding” and wondered what it was all about. 

Freeride snowboarding is a distinct activity although some people do put freeriding in with mountain riding, they are not the same thing. Some all-mountain riding involves a bit of freeriding, but it also includes a lot of other techniques as well. 

The other two terms which also get confused are freeride snowboarding and freestyle snowboarding and again, while they sound similar, they are not the same thing. You can do some freestyling when you are freeriding, but they are quite different. 

You can see the difference clearly if you look at the vastly different nature and style of freeriding snowboards when compared with the look and feel of freestyling snowboards if that helps to clarify things.

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So, What is Freeriding Snowboarding?

Essentially, freeriding snowboarding refers to going off-piste and riding in the backcountry, rather than the planned slopes. The idea is to snowboard more freely where there are fewer people and a more open landscape to explore your moves. 

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Freeriding is often seen as a quite aggressive riding style because it involves things like making hard carves, using steep slopes in the terrain, fast speeds, and going down narrow paths. It also involves doing tree runs and looking for natural landscape features for jumping and doing tricks.

 

Why Do I Need a Special Freeride Snowboard?

For freeriding, you are working with powdery snow and at high speeds, so you need a board that has been designed specifically to work well in these conditions. A freeriding board is stiffer than regular boards which makes it stable when going faster. 

The board has good edge holds for when you are doing hard carves and will work well on powdery snow. They generally have more camber and will be tapered at one end to help them go faster and more aggressively downhill. 

The base of a freeriding snowboard is also a different shape to others to help it glide better on the flat and get up more speed.

 

Where Did Freeriding Come From?

Freeriding is actually one of the sport’s original styles and is simply snowboarding on natural and unprepared ground, without following any set rules or course guide. It stems from the sport’s rebellion against regimented skiing contests. 

Freeriding is sometimes also called off-piste snowboarding, backcountry, extreme riding, big mountain, or side country. All of these names refer to snowboarding in a natural terrain rather than a man-made course. 

Freeriding uses all the tricks and techniques of regular snowboarding but takes them onto the challenge of the off-piste landscape, using natural features in the ground to perform jumps, tricks, and spins, rather than planned features.

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Once you have the skills needed to freestyle with your own jumps and tricks on the manmade terrain, and you are able to snowboard on prepared snow, the next level is to take your skills and apply them to the natural ground by freeriding. 

Freeriding makes great use of every skill you will have learned, while giving you the freedom to be able to snowboard on any terrain you choose, making it very appealing to the more adventurous snowboarder.

 

Do I Need Any Special Equipment?

The only special equipment you will need for freeriding is a freeride snowboard because they are a different shape and have different features, as mentioned previously, which all help with the different maneuvers you will need to be making. 

Freeriding boots and their bindings are normally quite a lot stiffer than you might be used to as well, so it is advisable to practice using your freeride board and kit somewhere safe first, to get used to how it handles.

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Is Freeriding Safe?

Going off-piste does bring with its potential dangers as you are venturing into unknown territory so you must always be aware of your surroundings and ask advice from those who know the area well, before venturing out. 

Always follow the safety rules and guidelines that are given to you and always let someone know where you are going to go snowboarding and how long you are planning to be gone so that they can look for you if something did go wrong.

 

Are There Freeriding Professionals?

You can compete as a free rider, but the competitions are normally run in parks rather than out in the wild but all the routes vary per rider making it more unpredictable. There is also a Freeride World Tour when the best riders in the world all compete together to take home the world champion prize. 

It started in 1996 but was given the World Tour title in 2008 and also includes freeskiing as well so it’s a championship for both freeride snowboarders and freeride skiers as well, bringing the highest standards to this sport. 

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There is also the World Heli Challenge which takes place in New Zealand, where extreme snowboard riders are helicoptered into the Mount Cook National Park for a two-week period. The course is only accessible by helicopter, hence the name of the challenge. 

 

Do I Need Freeriding Lessons?

Freeriding snowboarding draws upon all the skills you will have already learned as a traditional snowboarder following the set courses and trails. Everything you learn including all the tricks and jumps on boxes and rails in manmade parks can be applied to freeriding. 

You don’t need any special lessons; you just need to have all the skills to ride off-piste and the confidence that you can do it. The changing conditions with snow and unknown terrain underneath do provide challenges every time you freeride but then that’s the biggest thrill of doing it. 

It’s definitely not an activity for the faint-hearted or cautious snowboarder but it provides a new challenge and experience and a lot of freedom to experiment with your own snowboarding style.

 

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