More and more of us are looking beyond the piste markers for our thrills, but what is the best kit to help you have the best time in the backcountry?

Beyond the resort boundaries lies a world of untouched snow, and deep bowls of powder snow waiting to be ridden.

Interest and uptake in freeride skiing have sky-rocketed in recent years. Thanks in large part to a giant leap in technology, skiers at an intermediate level can enjoy the thrills of riding untamed terrain. In principle, skis, boots and bindings have all progressed to allow us to explore further and easier than ever before.

At the more advanced end of the spectrum, the lines between freeride and touring have become increasingly blurred. The marriage of the two disciplines spawned the freetour revolution, a continuation of last years trend. Find out what to look out for in 2020 with our freeride buying guide, where we also examine some of this winter’s top-performing equipment.

Looking for in-bounds ski gear? Check out our buying guide for this season’s best All-mountain and Piste Performance gear here.

Bigger in almost all dimensions than their piste and all-mountain counterparts, freeride skis, as the name suggests, are designed to be ridden wherever you darn well want.

However, not all freeride skis may not be as wide as you think. Around 5 years ago it was not uncommon to see waist widths of over 120mm, but fast forward to 2019/2020 and most freeride skis measure in at around the 100mm mark. Clever technologies and constructions have allowed designers to skim the width of the skis, still delivering on floatation and performance but adding maneuverability and increasing playfulness thanks to a smaller imprint.

Long shovels and novel geometries allow for better flotation in the soft stuff while also enhancing maneuverability and playfulness – the latter being a major buzzword in this relatively young discipline of skiing. Now, almost all freeride skis will have medium to large amounts of rocker in the tip and tail, where the ski rises prematurely at its extremities, aiding flotation while also allowing for a more forgiving ride thanks to a much easier turn initiation.

While camber is present in most models, it is not as prevalent as it is with on-piste skis. Like piste and all-mountain skis, freeride skis generally have some camber and are stiffer underfoot, meaning that they are still capable and stable in longer turns on hardpack. However, with added width, freeride skis sometimes lag when switching from edge to edge in comparison to their skinnier cousins, but then again, thats not what theyre designed for!

The added rocker does not aid stability on hardpack either, as the contact area on the snow is reduced when the ski rises early in the tip and tail. This reduced contact area makes most freeride skis feel shorter than their size on paper, which is why, as a rule of thumb, freeriders tend to size up in comparison to piste skis.

A good freeride ski should enable skiers from intermediate up advanced level have fun in the backcountry. One ski that embodied that more than any other in the womens freeride category at this year’s ski tests was the HEAD Kore 93 W, a winner of the high performer title. The female ski test crew had this to say about the ski’s accessibility: “This was a ski that initially feels very easy to use, its lightweight construction and well-judged shape makes it feel very much on your side.”

The Austrian manufacturers Kore range has been a hit since its introduction two winters ago, and this year HEAD has introduced two new womens specific models available in 93mm and 99mm underfoot.

On test, the 93 came out trumps with testers enjoying its maneuverability and playfulness in most conditions tested. Predictability and stability were also two of the ski’s key qualities. With a lightweight Graphene construction, the Kore 93W feels noticeably lighter than its rivals and has a confidence-inspiring sidecut that supports skiers as they transition from pisted to ungroomed terrain. 

Testers on this year’s Ski Tests said that the ski was “hard to fault”, high praise indeed.

The HEAD Kore 93 W is available in Snow+Rock stores and online for £525, read the full review here. The Kore range is made up of men’s and women’s skis with several waist widths, view Snow+Rock’s entire range of HEAD skis here.

Another ski right on trend is the Rossignol Black Ops. This year our testers were particularly impressed with the 98mm width version, claiming fans on and off the piste, bagging the coveted top performer accolade. Epitomising freeride this relative newcomer from Rossignol is described by its creators as “A progressive all-mountain gunner”, and our backcountry testers agreed, dubbing it a “total ripper!”

The ski felt solid and powerful on-piste, perhaps unsurprising from a French brand known for their racing pedigree, but venture into the softer mixed snow conditions and the ski comes alive! The wider footprint and early rise in the tip and tail boost this ski’s playful credentials. The stiff powerful construction encourages you to charge hard while the rocker and predictable flex push you to smear and slash all over the mountain, grinning all the way.

The Rossignol Black Ops 98 is available in Snow+Rock stores and online for £595, read the full review here. The Black Ops range is made up of men’s and women’s skis with several waist widths, view Snow+Rock’s entire range of Rossignol skis here.

Boots

Like bindings, freeride boots have taken steps forward in recent years. Boots have gone down in weight meaning that less energy is spent on the ascent to help you reserve energy for the descents. But don’t think that means they sacrifice any downhill performance, this new wave of boots have excellent handling characteristics and are built to thrive in whatever conditions the mountain throws at you.

In general, riders will opt for a stiffer than average boot to satisfy the control required for heading off-piste, but will not always choose the stiffest available. This gives a small amount of forgivingness which is often desirable when riding in uncharted territory.

The Atomic Hawx is a well-known boot from the alpine world, and the Hawx Ultra XTD shares that legendary performance but is built from the sole up as a freeskiing specific boot. With pin inserts, the boot’s intentions are clear: this boot is made for the ups and the downs. An industrial-looking walk mode provides a mammoth range of motion to rival most out and out touring boots, all of which would be left for dust as soon as the descent starts. Available in a variety of flex and both male and female fits, the Atomic Hawx XTD is not only an able ascender but an all-singing, all-charging downhill boot.

Another brand with its roots firmly in downhill performance is HEAD, and their freeride boots which share the same name as their freeride skis are no exception. The Kore boot is guild around a proven downhill chassis that yields excellent power transfer and control. While the walk mode is not the best it is more than enough for most, and the pin inserts and grip walk sole mean that the boot is right on the current freeride trends. The boot is fantastically light and the fit is second to none thanks to the innovative Liquid Fit liner. Liquid Fit is HEAD’s proprietary fit system where a thick fluid is injected into a reservoir within the liner to provide a perfect and adaptable mould to any skier’s feet.

The Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD and HEAD Kore boots are available in Snow+Rock stores and online for £580 and £550 respectively. View Snow+Rock’s entire range of ski boots here.

The best way to ensure your boots fit you well for seasons to come is to spend time with an experienced boot fitter, like those at Snow+Rock, where the retailer offers a comfort guarantee. Find out more about the boot fitting process here.

Bindings

Perhaps more than any other equipment category, bindings have seen the greatest technological advancements recently. Earlier we mentioned that the line between freeride and touring has become somewhat smudged. The introduction of bindings that allow the heel to release and riders to skin up and reach untracked powder stashes safely are all the rage. Previously when purchasing a touring binding system, you were faced with a choice, added security and added weight, in the case of the frame systems, or low weight and unpredictable release characteristics. Now riders don’t have to compromise.

Brands like Marker and Salomon are now producing bindings that meet all DIN certifications for a safe release but with the efficiency of a pin binding. They are certainly lighter than frame-style touring bindings but still have a little more bulk than the super-light touring bindings due to the added safety measures.

Marker’s industry-leading Kingpin binding has had another update for the 19/20 winter, but at its core, it is still the same binding with the same philosophy, a tech toe-piece with an alpine-style heel. What is new this season, however, is that the Kingpin now comes in a supercharged version, the Kingpin M-Werks. At first glance, the new binding is similar to the original, maybe with a slight facelift and new lick of paint. Look closer, however, and you will find weight-saving measures have been made throughout the construction, the souped-up version weighing in at just 540 grams, and still delivering on safety.

The Marker Kingpin and Kingpin M-Werks are both available at Snow+Rock online and in-store for £440 and £500 respectively.

Last season, Salomon raised the game even further when they released the revolutionary Shift binding. As the name suggests, the binding can change in form, with the flick of a switch the toe piece changes from alpine to touring binding.

Read our full review of the Salomon Shift here.

Those who prefer their off-piste adventures a little closer to the lifts still have a choice on their hands. Freeride bindings are somewhat burlier than their all-mountain counterparts, with beefed-up constructions designed to take a knock or two should things get a little hairy.

For several seasons, Marker has set the standard in the freeride-freestyle market with their royal family line, and again Marker impresses with their Griffon binding. A solid transverse toe piece and dependable heel unit have earned The Griffon a strong following. Topping out at a DIN of 13, the Griffon suits all but professional riders, and thanks to the new ID system, it doesn’t matter whether you have alpine, rocketed or new Grip Walk soles on your boots, they’re all compatible.

Tyrolia have created a true rival to Marker’s dominance with their AAAtack bindings, now in their second incarnation. Freeriders will welcome the chunky construction and tried and tested technology from Tyrolia, part of the HEAD family, which promises efficient power transfer from rider to ski. The binding is available in several colourways and DIN levels to suit all riders tastes and ability levels.

The Marker Griffon 13 ID, £175, and HEAD AAAttack2 12 and 13, £140, bindings are available in-store and online.

Remember, to ensure your bindings are fitted safely and to the correct settings according to your weight, height and ability level, it is best to consult one of Snow+Rock’s qualified in-store experts.

Poles

Poles are an important part for any freeride setup, whether that be to plant with during a jump turn on a steep descent, or for dragging yourself up the skin track away from the resort. If the former is your priority then a tough bombproof option is preferable, and if the latter is important to you then a more versatile extendable pole will be handy.

The Scott Cascade provides a fantastic option for those looking for a lightweight but strong pole with substantial adjustability. Those looking for a simpler pole will find it in the Salomon Arctic S3 pole, a strong aluminum shaft coupled with a wide powder basket provide a fantastic no-frills freeride stick.

The Scott Cascade and Salomon Arctic S3 poles are available in Snow+Rock stores and online for £27 and £69.95 respectively. View Snow+Rock’s entire range of ski poles here.

Find out more about Snow+Rock and view their entire range on their website at www.snowandrock.com