Freeriding is a discipline of skiing, performed on natural, un-groomed, terrain, without a set course, goals or rules. In snowboarding, it evolved throughout the sport's first decade as a hostile response to the highly regimented style of ski competition prevalent at the time. Skiers primarily refer to freeriding as "backcountry", "side country", or "off-piste" skiing, with "big mountain" and "extreme" skiing or riding being two further terms commonly used by less experienced skiers and boarders. Freeriding merges aspects of other skiing disciplines such as freestyle and alpine, into a style that adapts to the variations and challenges of natural terrain and eschews man-made jumps, rails and half-pipes, or groomed snow.
Due to their use of backcountry routes, freeriders are (proportionally) much more likely to become a victim of avalanches. One estimate considers that about 80% of all avalanche deaths in the Alps occur among freeride/backcountry skiers and riders.
Freeride skis, commonly known as powder or all-mountain skis have gained substantial popularity among skiers of all types.
All-mountain skis generally feature a wide tip and tail, with slight sidecut toward the center of the ski, and more generous rocker than other styles of skis. The wide tip and tail afford the skier more control when skiing powder and in off-piste situations. A rather new feature gaining substantial popularity among all-mountain ski production is the addition of rocker on the tail of the ski, a feature that has created its own subcategory known as "twin tip" skis; this feature was created with the park skier in mind, allowing a skier to land a jump in a reverse orientation. Since its introduction, twin tip skis have grown in popularity among powder skiers, as they allow the skier to continue to float along the surface of powder while turning, affording more control to the skier.
Powder specific skis carry many of the same attributes as all-mountain skis, yet tend to be much wider to allow the ski to float across powder snow due to the increased surface area of the wider skis. Most powder skis also have very little to no sidecut, as the ski does not need to dig into powder snow, and benefits from the added surface area no sidecut provides. Powder skis are less common than all-mountain skis among beginner and intermediate skiers due to the specialized nature of this type of skis.
Freeride snowboards make up a large part of the market as they are the ideal choice for the all-rounder.
A freeride board usually has a directional shape and flex pattern with a nose that is softer than the tail - this helps with turn initiation and with handling cruddy/choppy snow conditions. Overall a freeride board is stiffer tip to tail and edge to edge for a more precise and stable ride. Boots and bindings are usually stiffer than their freestyle snowboarding counterparts as well.
Some freeride boards are designed more specifically for powder than for groomers. Many powder boards are tapered, which means they have a narrower tail than nose. Some have rocker, which means instead of camber these boards have their lowest point between your bindings and they bend up towards the tips. Some powder boards have a swallow tail design which allows the tail to sink easier which in turn keeps the nose up and some have pintails which make the board faster edge to edge in deep snow.
Craig Kelly (April 1, 1966 - January 20, 2003) is known as the 'Godfather of Freeriding'; Terje Haakonsen called Kelly the best snowboarder of all time. He shocked the snowboard industry by walking away from multi-million dollar deals to pursue freeriding.
The distinctive fluid manner in which he rode was recognized and acclaimed in the snowboarding community. He was called a "style master" by snowboard magazine editor Jon Foster. Kelly appeared in an many video and photo shoots. He was known for looking straight at the camera, even in the midst of a difficult aerial maneuver.
Kelly was a Sims Snowboards team rider for a few years early in his career, but spent most of his life riding for Burton Snowboards. He was responsible for the design and development of many snowboards for the Burton Snowboards brand. The company's founder, Jake Burton, is quoted as saying, “When I started listening to Craig, that was when my company became successful and really took off.” He added, “… when the rest of the industry listened to Craig, that was when the sport really took off.”
Craig Kelly died on January 20, 2003 near Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada in an avalanche which trapped 8 people and killed 6 others. Jacques Russo's film documentary, "Let It Ride", celebrates Craig Kelly's life.
Johan Olofsson (born October 27, 1976) is a snowboarder known for being one of the first riders to take freestyle tricks more commonly performed in man-made terrain parks into the big mountain freeriding environments of Alaska. Originally coming from a freestyle background, Olofsson adapted his spin tricks and jibs to the backcountry environment. He gained attention and respect from the freeriding community when he started performing these tricks off natural features such as windlips and cliffs in the midst of steep lines in the Alaskan ranges.
Jeremy Jones (born 14 January 1975) is a former snowboard racer now regarded as a pioneer of professional big mountain riding. His style is a seminal influence on modern big mountain freeriding.
Travis Rice (born October 9, 1982) is regarded as the “Paul Revere” of the big mountain freestyle movement. Best known for his success in the realm of freestyle snowboarding competition, his ability to adapt his skills to extreme terrain has gained him legendary status in backcountry circles as well.
Freeride competitions basically involve negotiating steep natural terrain fluidly in a similar approach to slopestyle competitors in a terrain park. However unlike the freestyle discipline of slopestyle, there are no perfect man-made takeoffs or landings - each individual rider's route varies, and is personally plotted out in pre-run inspections. Constantly changing weather and snow conditions add an extra element to these events, and the unpredictably random aspect of freeride terrain contributes to a high risk of personal injury.
The Freeride World Tour is an annually toured series of events in which the best freeskiers and snowboard freeriders compete for individual event wins, as well as the overall title of World Champion in their respective genders and disciplines. The first event series under the Freeride World Tour moniker took place in 2008. Prior to that it was known as the Verbier Extreme, originally a snowboard only contest launched in 1996 - with skiers also invited to compete in 2004. For the 2013 season, the Freeride World Tour merged with the Freeskiing World Tour and The North Face Masters of Snowboarding, combining all three tours under one unified global championship series.
From 1995-2001 New Zealand's World Heli Challenge invited international extreme snowboarders and skiers to compete in New Zealand's Mt. Cook National Park. The helicopter-accessed competition occurred over a two-week period to allow for weather and snow conditions. In 2001, the tragedy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks interrupted international sponsorship support leading to an eight-year break. Footage from the previous years events continued to play worldwide. In 2009 the World Heli Challenge resumed and has been running annually ever since.
- "Gefaehrlicher Maerz". Der Spiegel, 12/2013 (in German). p. 147.