Sponsored by Snow+Rock

Freeride gear helps you charge through anything the mountain can throw at you. 

There is nothing quite like skiing powder, surfing through light snow can often feel like you are floating on air. Many prefer to spend their entire holiday searching for stashes of white gold-dust outside the piste poles. However, even in the most snow-sure resorts can’t guarantee powder every week of the season, so freeride gear needs to inspire confidence in all snow conditions. 

In the days of old, ungroomed snow was reserved for expert skiers with impeccable technique. However, the modern crop of freeride kit enables confident intermediate skiers to unlock off piste terrain. More and more resorts are offering avalanche controlled ‘freeride areas’ and ungroomed runs (or itineraries), there’s never been a better time to kit up and venture off piste, although make sure you are exploring new terrain safely. 

Freeride skiing is somewhat of a spectrum, with equipment picking up where all-mountain kit ends and extending further and further. As such choosing the right setup for you can often seem like a tall mountain to scale, fortunately, we are on hand with our friends at Snow+Rock to help you find your perfect freeride setup with our 2019 buying guide. 

Skis

The Best Men’s skis of 2019 – Freeride

Shot during our annual ski tests on location in Galtur

They’re just fat skis, aren’t they? Well, sort of. Starting at 95mm underfoot, freeride skis are generally wider than their piste and all mountain relatives to help them float in softer conditions, but dive deeper into their construction and you will discover numerous freeride-specific features.

Freeride skis will generally have a larger amount of rocker than other skis. Sometimes referred to as negative camber, this early rise in the tip and tail of a ski was initially designed to improve flotation, especially when combined with the long shovels present on freeride skis. Rocker has the added benefit of aiding turn initiation, prompting the technology being adopted in small doses by piste and all mountain skis. Rocker isn’t always the best for gripping on the firmest snow conditions, but freeriders are rarely fussed about this.

Despite that, you will often find that modern freeride skis are perfectly comfortable carving medium to long radius turns on anything but the iciest of pistes. This is thanks to many freeride skis having some positive camber underfoot to provide grip on firmer conditions and stability when things get a bit hairy.

Generally, riders will opt for skis that may seem a little on the long side to compensate for the increased level of rocker and ensure that there is enough ski in contact with the snow for added stability at speed. 

In recent years the freeride category has been one of the most hotly contested. This year, our male testers put the Volkl M5 Mantra at the top of the pile. At 96mm underfoot with a healthy amount of rocker in the tip and tail, the ski floated well in soft snow with titanal layers and a full sidewall along the length of the ski providing the stiffness to charge through crud and hold an edge on the firmest snow. 

Although this ski may be labelled a freeride ski, it is no slouch on the pistes. A supremely powerful ski that is a great option for skiers who hunt for soft snow but find themselves blasting pistes when their snow dances haven’t delivered the goods. 

“That legendary Mantra feel with bombproof edge grip at high speed. A ski that loves to be skied hard” – Pete Davison

The Volkl M5 Mantra is available with Snow+Rock both online and instore.

The Best Women’s skis of 2019 – Freeride

Shot at the Ski Club's annual ski tests in Galtur

At the pinnacle of this year’s women’s skis were Rossignol’s Sky 7 HD planks. On the wider side of the spectrum, our all-female test crew were pleasantly surprised by the manoeuvrability of the freeride ski in all conditions. Eye-catching weight-saving measures throughout the ski’s construction have yielded a nimble and playful ski that floats effortlessly through powder. Despite its lightweight, the ski holds an edge well at high speeds on firmer snow, just like the Mantra. 

This ski is perfect for anyone looking for a lightweight freeride setup that still performs on the piste. Those looking to ascend under their own steam will also be drawn to this ski thanks to its touring capability.

“Really easy and playful off piste. Lightweight in the tips make them quick to change direction and have great absorption” - Eilidh McLeod

The Rossignol Ski 7 HD W is available with Snow+Rock both online and instore.

Bindings

Freeride bindings are traditionally a little burlier than piste bindings and demand slightly different release characteristics. Riding in deep snow exerts unique forces on the ski and with the added risk of impacts from rocks and trees, freeride bindings need to be tough.

Marker’s Griffon 13 ID bindings have long been a popular choice for freeride skiers. Marker’s signature transverse toe piece keeps your forefoot secure while the sturdy heelpiece provides the forward pressure. The most recent iterations include Marker’s ID toe plate which allows the binding to be compatible with Alpine boot soles, rockered touring soles and new Gripwalk rubbers.

What DIN do I need?

Your DIN setting will vary depending on your skiing ability, weight, height, and boot sole length.

The DIN setting is the industry-standard measure of release force setting. The higher the DIN setting, the harder it is for the skis to come off. There are various charts and tools online to help you determine your DIN setting, but for the best results we recommend visiting your local Snow+Rock store and talking to a member of staff.

Lighter male and female riders requiring a lower DIN setting should also consider the Marker Squire 11 ID, which contains many of the same versatile features but in a much lighter overall package.

The Maker Griffon and Marker Squire bindings are available on Snow+Rock’s website and instore.

The Future

With many of the most attractive powder stashes lying outside the reach of the lifts, many freeride bindings offer the option to free the heel to climb away from the crowds with your skins on to find fresh tracks. 

Since the introduction of the likes of the Salomon Guardian and Maker’s Tour F12 and Baron models, riders have been able to enjoy the safety features of alpine bindings but also the freedom to tour thanks to the heel being able to come free, although this came at a weight compromise. 

In recent years, however, a number of bindings have revolutionised this market. Notably, the Marker Kingpin, Fritschi Tecton and more recently the Salomon Shift bindings offer touring capabilities with a ‘pin’ style toepiece with an alpine style heel that releases safely.

Boots

Just like bindings, freeride boots have evolved in recent years to cater for an appetite for heading further to access the best snow. Walk modes are now the norm and boots have been getting lighter and lighter to minimise energy wasted on the ascent, and with fantastic ride characteristics, you will still be grinning from ear to ear as soon as you point your tips down. Generally, freeriders look for a mid to high flex pattern for a high level of precision with a dash of forgiveness.

Dalbello’s Lupo AX 120 men's boot has long been on our radar as one of the best freeride/touring crossover boots on the market. Dalbello’s three-piece design delivers a progressive flex for a predictable, precise experience on the downs. When heading uphill the boots lightweight construction and no-frills dependable walk mode make height gain a walk in the park. The boot fits medium volume feet well with a 100mm last and the mouldable liner removes the need to break the boot in. The addition of pin inserts in the toe and heel maximise compatibility, which is invaluable if you find yourself switching between touring and freeride. An all-around dependable boot that performs in and out of bounds.

For female freeriders, Tecnica’s Cochise 95 boot is worth considering. The fantastic downhill performance combined with a hike mode that offers a huge range of movement ticks two of the key boxes. Throw in an innovative liner that guarantees a fantastic fit and a lightweight construction to match, this is a real contender for ladies who shred off piste. The fit is perfect for those with mid-volume feet with the classic 4 buckle design and understated look make this an instant classic.

Both the Dalbello Lupo AX 120 and the Tecnica Cochise 95 are available online and instore at Snow+Rock, spending time with Snow+Rock’s boot fitters is the best way to ensure you find the best boots for you from their extensive range. Head to your nearest store to find the boots for you, discover more about the process online here.

Poles

As with all freeride gear, poles need to be bombproof to handle the increased loads riding off piste brings. In recent years poles have seen numerous safety developments with many now coming with ‘safety straps’ where the strap releases from the poles under larger forces. Riders still have the support of a strap when poling over flats but in a fall where sharp poles aren’t wanted near the body, the straps separate from the poles and away to safety.

For men, Scott’s Metric SRS is a burly option with Scott’s take on the safety strap system with a stealthy look to boot. For female freeriders, the Atomic AMT SQS Women’s pole is worth considering, as it contains the two key features mentioned above. Both poles are available at a competitive price point, so if you do lose one of your sticks in the snow it’s not going to break the bank!

Both poles above are available online or instore at Snow+Rock.