How to start freeriding? 10 tips for a begginer

November 16, 2021

For more than 10 years Golden Ride has been developing winter freeride in Ukraine. We propose: freeride school, catskiing (freeride-safari with the help of catski), guided ski touring and backcountry. Among our clients were hundreds of riders during these years: from beginners to experienced riders. 

This article consists of both our own experience and our colleagues’ freeriders and resources from all-over the world.

1. Ride with the right company!

Definitely, this is the most important point. Because your welfare and safety will depend on exactly these people. Mountains have their own rules and they have to be implemented strictly especially in winter. Never ride alone – this is really dangerous. Worldwide experience, based on a practice, says that a perfect group size for freeriding counts up to 8 persons. Those are international guides’ rules, where one group is a sole unit! According to personal qualities each of a teammate and also due to the level of cooperation inside of a group these important factors are forming:  

— the mobility of a group,

— safety of a group, 

— ability to deal with problem situations

In other words: the level of a group is defined by the weakest member! 

2. Be realistic about your skills

Always choose a slope according to your skills. There is no sense to freeride on a slope of 35 degrees when you are not very comfortable on a blue one on-piste.
It’s important to realise that you’ll need to be very experienced while riding the on-piste slopes before trying to move off piste. The more variety of experience you have the easier would be your transformation into a freerider. Be aware, that freeride is not only that “Japanese powder” – that is also a mixed relief, and mounds, and often completely different snow cover (crust, concrete etc.) during one descent. By the way, all serious schools, instructors and guides will first of all check your riding technique on-piste. This makes a perfect opportunity to evaluate the level of a group and lead it by the most optimal route which would be safe and comfortable for the weakest rider (that means also for the rest of a group) 

3. Work on your technique permanently

Freeride skills do not depend on the high cost of your skis or snowboard. It’s not skis that ride, just like the boots don’t go by themselves, but that’s you who control your skis or snowboard and walk in boots. Good equipment is only meant to make your skiing easier and more comfortble.
Therefore, technique is first and foremost important!
Everything is really simple: learn, ride, work on your technique, progress! You should know your mistakes and work on them. When you have the right technique, you get more control. More control means faster speed during descent. Mistakes made at a higher speed could lead to falls with serious consequences and injuries. 

So the recipe for success is both simple and complex at the same time: the more reel with the right technique, the more progress, fun and speed off the pistes. Your experience and knowledge determine the level of your own safety.

4. Learn the basics of avalanche safety

Freeride is skiing on potentially dangerous avalanche slopes. “There are no avalanches here and it is completely safe here,” either a fool or a charlatan might say. Therefore, it is important for a freerider to study this topic: attend lectures, watch webinars, etc. But theory alone is not enough, it is important in practice to learn how to use avalanche equipment, to understand how the snow cover is formed, how avalanches appear. Thus, you can already be effective in carrying out rescue operations, and even better – these rescue operations can be avoided due to correct forecasting.

5. Plan your freeride properly

Freeride is the ultimate ski math. In freeriding, your journey must be clearly planned: the situation and forecast, the assessment of the terrain and routes, the experience of the participants and the right equipment must match each other. The descent line, each turn must be calculated in advance. A well-thought-out trajectory that takes into account safety, terrain, weather and snow conditions – this is the tactic of freeriding. Implementing tactics is a technique. Add speed to that … We have a hot mix where every nuance counts!

6. Avoid unnecessary risks and dangers

In the mountains, safety is paramount! Even the most beautiful and desirable descent is not worth it to become the last one. Therefore, in a disputable situation, choose the safest option. It is important to be able to make the decision to refuse to descend in the event of an avalanche danger, to turn around and descend along a safe line without unnecessary risk. Likewise, it is worth giving up on a slope that does not meet your expectations or the level of skiing of one of your team. The consequences can be dire, and conducting rescue operations in remote areas in the event of an injury is a rather difficult and time-consuming undertaking. Personal ambition and adrenaline rush should be relegated to the background. Make decisions without emotion and with a cool head.

7. Collect the “freerider backpack”

Approach the selection of equipment and fill your backpack as carefully as possible. In the middle of the season, it is more difficult to catch the required positions, so make sure to be ready for the trip in advance.

Here we will write about the basic contents of the freerider’s backpack, and for more detailed instructions read the separate article “freerider’s backpack”:

  • Avalanche kit: probe, shovel and avalanche sensor (beeper). Beeper is like a life jacket in a freeride, you can’t go out without it! And we assure you that there is no such thing as “this is just the Carpathians”, “this will not happen to me” or “I will only pass under the ski lift” – avalanches can occur even within the resorts and often at the most unexpected moment!
  • Phone with a full charge + preferably a power bank
  • Walkie-talkies. It is advisable to have at least two radios per group – at the start and the end, however, when each participant has a radio, everyone will be more comfortable and, in which case, safer. Keep in mind that in the mountains there are failures in cellular communication, so a walkie-talkie with a frequency tuned to your group is an excellent means of communication.
  • Spare mask (in case of falling, icing, loss will be absolutely necessary!)
  • Spare mittens, warm tops (as a rule, it is the limbs that freeze first and another insulating / windproof layer can save hands from frostbite!)
  • Another insulating main layer (light puff, fleece)
  • A small personal first aid kit (taking into account that the main first aid kit is taken by the guide), sunscreen, hygienic lipstick
  • Thermos with hot tea / coffee
  • Energy Bars, Snack 
  • A small folding knife and reinforced tape can be very useful in an emergency.

The contents of the backpack can grow depending on the difficulty of your hike, until the appearance of a full-fledged alps. kit if you are going to skialp in the Tien Shan mountains.

8. Pick the right outfit

Further, we are talking about both the ski / snowboard equipment itself (we have collected advice on the selection of freeride kits in separate articles from our guides: 1, 2), and what to wear on the day of skiing.

Helmet – is a must! It doesn’t matter where and when you ride, what level of difficulty is the slope and how many years of experience you have at your feet – a helmet should always be worn.

For clothing, take the sandwich or “three layers” principle as a rule:

  • Thermal underwear (we recommend synthetic compression – it wicks moisture away from the body best of all). The main task of this layer is to remove moisture from the surface of the body and prevent you from getting wet from the inside.
  • Insulation (fleece, thin puff, primaloft). The task of layer No. 2 is to warm up and remove moisture, with which layer No. 1 worked further, to layer No. 3.
  • Membrane. The main functions of layer No. 3 is to remove moisture from layer No. 2 to the outside, at the same time not letting rain / snow / wind inside
  • Remember that we always recommend having an additional layer No. 2 – it will warm you up during stops and snacks, or in case of worsening weather conditions (optimally, this is a thin compact puff or primaloft)

9. Be prepared for different situations.

  • Contact the locals: experienced riders, guides and lifeguards to get a more detailed picture of the region and understand where you can go, and where it is better to postpone the trip. 
  • Know the phone numbers of rescue services in the region where you will ride and be able to quickly send your coordinates via SMS or any other messenger.
  • ! Each group exit to the backcountry must be registered with the appropriate rescue service. At the same time, the rescuers will receive information about your route, the number of people, the duration of the trip – the more data, the easier and faster it will be possible to act in case of an emergency.
  • Monitor the weather forecast for the last days and on the day of departure. Thus, you will be able to form a general picture of snow accumulation in advance and approximately estimate the state of the snow cover.

10. Insurance.

Alpine skiing and snowboarding are always associated with an increased risk. On-piste, freeride, kicker, bigair … Please do not hesitate to insure yourself for the entire skiing term. It is important to know that regular travel insurance is only valid within the resort! If you decide to master off-piste skiing, consider this when choosing an insurance policy. Yes, there really is a special insurance, which is called “freeride insurance”, the policy of which will also work off the piste.

Summarize. We can reduce all recommendations to a few simple rules:

  • Find good companions or a competent guide.
  • Practice your riding technique.
  • Get avalanche training, practice working with avalanche equipment regularly
  • Choose equipment according to your event.
  • Gather information: study the forecast and avalanche conditions, communicate with locals and guides, dig pits and study the state of snow in the region.
  • Leave information about yourself to other people: friends, family, rescuers.
  • Avoid the dangers. If in doubt, it is better to refuse the descent or at least change the route.
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