How to choose freeride skis? Guide’s recommendation.
November 9, 2021
There is just a huge amount of material on this topic. In this article, I will make the most concise and understandable overview of the main parameters of alpine skiing, which we firstly pay attention to.
- Ski width.
Width is the first thing that makes a difference between freeride and piste skis. The width of the ski means the size of the waist, that is, the narrowest point of the ski. Freeride models usually have a waistline of 90mm.
The advantages of narrow skis:
- Easy and fast edging on hard surfaces.
- Relatively light knee stress.
- Very common feeling as riding on-piste.
However, there is one significant advantage in wide skis:
- They float well in powder (deep soft snow) even at low speed.
Often beginners choose narrower skis, thinking that more familiar means easier. But, finding ourselves in soft snow (which we hunt for), problems begin: due to the fact that the skis are sinking all the time, the narrow skiers require good technique and high speed, and if the slope is completely flat, then all that remains is to sit in the rear rack, deprived of pleasure and strength. Therefore, if you choose the first pair of freeriding skis, it is better to pay attention to the waist 100-110mm. Narrow, up to 100mm, we leave for specific conditions – hard snow, bumps, etc., these are not skis for every day. Also specific are the widest models, with a waist of more than 120mm – only for powder days
Just compare the “narrow” Völkl Kendo 92 with the monstrous Liberty Mutant (waist 149mm)
* Choosing the right pair of skis is a very special thing to do, so the best option is to try as many different skis as possible in rentals, test centers and choose a pair that suits you.
- Ski profile.
There are two main types of ski profiles – camber and rocker. The longer one deflection, the smaller the other, so we choose a ski profile for our tasks and conditions.
- Camber – the classic arch deflection of the ski under the boot gives the ski stability and grip on hard surfaces.
- Rocker – Reverse camber that helps the skis float and turn in deep snow. All modern freeride skis have one or another type of rocker:
- Front rocker (Tip Rocker) – the toe of the ski is lifted up in advance
- Tip & Tail Rocker – Pre-raised toe and heel. A large rear rocker is primarily needed for tricks and switch riding, that is, back to front. The low rear rocker makes it easier to turn in soft snow.
- Full Rocker – fully arched ski, no camber. Works great in a powder, but not so easy on a hard surface.
If you are interested in freestyle backcountry (terrain tricks), choose skis with both high rear and heel rocker. These skis are called twin tips. If you want to downhill at a great speed look at models with camber and front rocker, rear is optional.
Skis have longitudinal and torsional stiffness:
Torsional (transverse) stiffness – the resistance of the ski to twisting around the longitudinal axis. The larger it is, the better the transfer of the skier’s efforts to the edges. The torsion bar is not indicated in the catalogs and is rarely mentioned in reviews and equipment reviews, however, all manufacturers try to ensure sufficient rigidity of their products, and we may not think too much about it.
Longitudinal stiffness is extremely important when choosing alpine skis, as is its distribution:
– Stiff ski socks run through small obstacles easily (soft bumps, frozen tracks, etc.). Soft socks float better. Very soft ones can “slap” on the snow at speed, which is annoying and creates a feeling of uncontrollability.
– Stiff center of the ski (area under the bindings) gives stability at speed and predictability in difficult snow. A soft ski is more fun, forgives more technical mistakes, and requires less physical effort for the rider. A too soft center of the ski can affect the correct operation of the bindings, especially on the pin ski-tour bindings, idle fires are possible.
– Stiff heel helps on landings after jumps and drops. Soft one gives some maneuverability, it bends more easily in an arc, reducing the turning radius.
* Heavy skiers should choose a bit stiffer skis
The choice of ski length (size) is also very individual, therefore, I’ll give only general recommendations. Skis shorter than the height of a skier are not accepted in freeriding. “Short skis suck!” More than 20cm in height – you should first try, ’cause they won’t suite everyone. Standard advice: + 5-10cm for the rider’s height, and this really works well in most situations. In general, short skis are more maneuverable, long skis are more stable at speed and float better due to the larger sliding surface.
* Sometimes the same model in different lengths has a very different character, so in reviews and tests we pay attention to our size.
- Sidecut radius.
The Sidecut Radius generally indicates which turns the ski is aiming for – short, medium, or long. In addition, skis with a large radius cling less to various forms of micro-relief – small irregularities, bumps, frozen tracks, and, in general, they behave more predictably in difficult conditions. In a soft snow, the radius is not as important as the stiffness and profile of the ski, there are even super-wide models with a “reverse radius”, and their waist is the widest point
Volant Spatula. The first ski with full rocker and reverse radius.
Today you can find skis of “freeride” geometry with very different weights – from 1kg to 3kg (as a rule, the weight of one ski is indicated). Light skis are easy to carry, and easier to ride on a ski tour, but heavier models are still more suitable for descent, they pass thru obstacles better, are stable at speed and predictable in uneven snow. Also, weight reduction negatively affects the strength of the product, despite the use of the latest technologies and materials. The normal weight of a freeride ski is 1.8-2.3kg. Ski touring models are worth buying only if you are going to walk really a lot.
In modern skiing, such a huge variety of materials is used that a series of articles can be devoted to this. I will only mention metal here. Reinforcement with metal, usually in the form of titanium plates of various thicknesses, shapes and sizes, can go in two layers or in one, under the core. Titanal, along with the weight, adds stiffness and resilience, these skis feel more powerful, give a more tangible impact. Recommended for aggressive skiers.
- Few advices:
There is usually a Factory Recommended Mount Point on the ski, and for most riders this is the best choice. In freestyle models, the mark is closer to the geometric center of the ski, in directional ones – a little closer to the heel. In some cases, the bindings can be shifted to one side or the other from the recommended mark, which will radically change the behavior of the ski. For example, you bought skis, but something does not suit you, you want more park orientation – try rearranging the bindings 1-2 cm forward. Just be careful with this, the result will not always please you.
* Any skis need to be rolled in, do not judge them by the first descent.
In the catalogs of manufacturers and stores, you can see the division of skis into categories like All Mountain, Big Mountain, Backcountry, Freestyle, Powder and others. In fact, all brands have a different vision of this issue, so it is difficult for us to focus on this, but it is better to focus on the parameters described above.
Remember to take good care of your equipment. Well-prepared skis handle better in general, and in powder they go to planning faster and require smaller slopes for this.
* It is better to frequently apply cheap wax than expensive wax, but never 🙂
You shouldn’t buy skis if you don’t have good boots. It is easy to rent skis for your boots, but finding rental boots for your feet is almost impossible.
And most importantly, even the most advanced equipment is worthless without the ability to use it. Pay more attention to riding technique and tactics, avalanche safety and your physical shape.
- What to ride in the Ukrainian Carpathians
What advice would I give to the average skier for skiing in the Ukrainian Carpathians?
- Waist width 100-110mm;
- Medium front rocker and camber under the boot;
- Medium stiff ski toe, hard mid and heel;
- Ski length + 5-10cm for height;
- Sidecut radius 17-25m;
The combination of these characteristics will allow you to feel confident in such changeable conditions of the Carpathian Mountains – in the alpine zone and in the forest, in powder and on a rigid snow. The rest depends on you and your technique. Speaking about concrete models, you can have a look at Blizzard Rustler 10, Salomon QST 106, Völkl Mantra 102, Völkl 100Eight, Fischer Ranger 108 (107) ti, Fischer Ranger 102fr, Armada Tracer 108 (softer), Armada Invictus 108ti (harder) … The choice is much wider, this is just the first thing that comes to mind and at the same time is available on the Ukrainian market.
Golden Ride guide and instructor — Vasyl Zarapa
You can learn and significantly improve your freeride skills at the Freeride School, where Vasyl leads a ski part.