Freeskiing: skiing from park and pipe to all-mountain and freeride
Whether you’re looking to get into freeskiing or just searching for a new way to get your kicks then you’re spoilt for choice: the world of freeskiing awaits, with its varied disciplines that demand different styles, terrain and equipment.
- The right ski for your riding style
- The shapes which make a freeski
- Profile: gives you the performance characteristics you need for the way you ride
- Flex: the longitudinal flexibility of your skis
- Torsion: the torsional stiffness along the longitudinal axis
- The base, core and construction
- Freeski length: the right length for all your freeski needs
- Choosing length according to your riding style
1. The right ski for your riding style
At Blue Tomato we separate freeskiing into four disciplines: all-mountain, freeride, freestyle and jib. So if you’re looking for skis in our online shop this is how they’ll be presented to you.
1.1 All-mountain – shredding both on and off the piste
As the name suggests this is the freeski category that’s all about skiing everywhere and skiing everything. If you can only afford one pair of skis or don’t want to swap skis frequently then you can be confident with an all-mountain ski so that you’re ready for everything.
All-mountain skis combine and adapt all the advantages of narrower piste and park skis and freeride ones, making them super versatile. Fun is at the forefront and you’re not bound to any one style of riding.
You tear up the pistes at top speed, carve wide turns into the corduroy and float through powder in the backcountry. Gliding smoothly through fresh powder is just as easy as aggressive, dynamic carving on freshly prepared pistes.
As you can see those are amazing characteristics for all terrain and snow conditions. The only thing holding you back will be your imagination.
1.2 Freeride: a wide pair of skis for maximum float
Are you the kind of person who loves the feeling of your heart pounding as adrenaline floods your system as you stand ready to drop in on an untouched face? Then freeriding is for you. The fun only really starts once you start skiing the parts of the hill the punters wouldn’t dream it was even possible.
Freeriding is all about the limitless fun you can have in soft snow and out of bounds. Long turns in untouched snow, launching off steep cliffs, dodging through the trees – those are the kinds of thrills that freeriding has to offer.
We’re talking about backcountry riding – skiing that takes place off the piste-bashed tracks and controlled pistes. The kind of things a pair of freeride planks are perfect for. Pop a pair of touring skins on your skis and hike up to your desired destination. That feeling of riding in completely untouched nature sums up the appeal of this incredible riding style perfectly.
Of course, for skiing as extreme as this you do need a little more material beneath your bindings. That’s why these skis are made especially for deep snow with a particular width, profile and shape to guarantee you a good time in the powder. As sidecuts have got larger and materials have been developed even further, the speed of freeriding has risen too. People will no longer tell you you’ll be taking it slow in the powder.
As freeriding mainly takes place off-piste some concessions have to be made with regards to on-piste performance. Freeride skis are a little less dynamic and have less edge grip on prepared pistes because of their width and rocker profiles.
If you’re someone who tends to avoid groomers at all costs a pair of freeride skis should be perfect for you.
Josh AbsengerBlue Tomato Team Rider
1.3 Freestyle: spending your days jumping kickers and sliding rails
Freestyle skiing can be separated into countless different sub-categories so for the moment we’re just going to assume you want to ride the piste, park and pipe and hit jumps with as much style as possible. To do that you want skis that are easy to turn and control.
This type of skiing is a combination of skill, balance, creativity, guts and stamina. Only once you’ve got these down will the gates of freeski heaven be opened to you. Above all, freestyle skiing is about getting the most enjoyment possible out of this super playful, creative way of riding. The more you practice and the more experience you get under your belt the easier it will be to stick new tricks and come up with new ideas to improve your own style.
With big air, slopestyle and more there’s plenty to try your hand at. Naturally, with such extreme riding comes the risk of extreme stresses and strains like big impacts from huge airs. That’s why freeskis are built using shock and vibration absorbing, stable construction methods. Similarly, their shape and profile should be nice and versatile so you can ride as creatively as you wish.
To go with the playful, creative discipline that is freestyle you obviously need the sickest designs and equipment! You’d be hard pushed to find a dull top sheet among the freestyle skis. No other genre has such a focus on rad graphics, designs and patterns. With all the high end equipment you need to get the job done you’ll look rad too. Perfect!
1.4 Jib: skis for handrails and boxes in the park and streets
Jibbing doesn’t always take place on the mountain. You’ve already spotted a couple of spots around your home and in the city nearby and can’t wait for it to snow? Sounds like you’re the one who’s constantly calling their buddies stoked to build a kicker in the streets. But there are also plenty of opportunities for jibbing in resort too: tree stumps, tree trunks, endless parks and rails and any other obstacle you can think of.
As you can see jibbing is an art form in which you overcome the obstacles in your way by jumping over them, tapping them and anything else you can imagine. To make sure you can do that to the best of your ability ski companies have designed durable park and jib skis.
These are the skis you use to press boxes, slide rails and jib rocks and other solid structures so they have to be super durable and virtually bombproof. They tend to have longer lasting edges and are usually made with extruded base layers which can be fixed faster and more easily than sintered bases.
2. Freeski shapes
You first notice the shape of a pair of skis when you look at them from above. The three most important measurements when it comes to ski shapes are the width of the tip, tail and waist. These measurements influence the radius, also known as the sidecut.
A shorter radius makes the ski turn tighter, meaning that it will be better when turning quickly. However, a ski with a longer radius will be more stable at higher speeds. It really depends on how you ride – park skis will often have a medium to shorter radius for quicker turning to hit obstacles, whereas powder and all-mountain skis will likely have a longer radius for skiing faster through powder and variable terrain.
2.1 True Twin: a totally symmetrical construction
True Twin freeskis have tips and tails that are the same width/length and distance from the centre point of the ski, making it absolutely symmetrical. Centred binding mounts and equally high tips and tails make True Twins ideal for switch riding and are used for freestyle/jib skiing.
2.2 Directional Twin: a slightly adapted version of the True Twin
This shape has a twin tip but isn't symmetrical. The width of the tips and tails are often a little different and the mounting position is normally set back slightly. It’s these little differences that make them ideal for freestyle riding in both the park and around the mountain. These skis are perfect for riders who like to play around off the piste from time to time. Twin tip powder skis are always directional too.
2.3 Directional: relocating the centre of the skis
As the name suggests this shape is designed for forward-faced riding. The tip of each ski is longer than the tail and usually features a different flex profile. This kind of construction makes a ski more manoeuvrable and stable for riding forwards. Directional shapes are perfect for people who aren’t too bothered about park riding. You can have directional all-mountain and freeride skis.
2.4 Tapered: moving the contact points
Taper can also be described as how far the widest contact point moves inwards. This makes the tip and tail bulkier, altering the length of the effective edge. The further in the contact points are the shorter the effective edge. Shorter edges are much smoother to set and release when carving. On the other hand, longer effective edges are better for long powerful turns.
3. Profile: the performance characteristics you need for the way you ride
If you set your ski down on a flat surface and look at it from the side you’ll see what’s known as the ski’s profile.
By giving skis a camber or a rocker you can make it perform in completely different ways. It’s also important to note that ski brands will have different names for different camber and rocker profiles, but for simplicity we have separated our range into five categories: full camber, all-mountain rocker, park rocker, nose rocker and powder rocker.
3.1 Full camber: precision and grip
Giving a ski full camber (also known as positive camber) means that the centre of the ski will be higher off the ground than the tip and tail when unweighted. This gives you two contact points with the ground when the ski is unweighted at tip and tail. Camber ensures that the pressure of your weight is spread across the entire length of the edge giving you much greater edge grip – also referred to as bite – when carving plus added stability and more precision in your riding. Full camber is found in high-end piste skis and aggressive park skis as it provides grip on icy kickers and pipes.
3.2 All-mountain rocker: balance for skiing everywhere
Probably the most common rocker profile found in skis. An all-mountain rocker has a strong camber underfoot with rockered tips and tails. This means that you’ll get grip for riding piste from the underfoot camber but also soft snow performance from the rocker tips. A rockered tip is when the tip is prematurely lifted up from the snow. This encourages a better stance in powder and ensures that more of the ski is in contact with the snow, hence getting more floatation. With this profile the balance between soft and hard snow performance is maintained.
3.3 Park rocker: catch-free jibbing
Park rocker profiles, found in freestyle and jib skis, feature a mixture of camber and rocker, but for a different purpose to all-mountain rockers. The rocker profile in park skis works for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it means that you’re less likely to catch an edge with landings and rail tricks as the pressure on the tips and tails is less severe. Secondly, the rocker also shortens the running length of the ski meaning that it’s quicker to spin. Finally, rockered tips are often softer making these skis more forgiving on your not-so-perfect landings.
3.4 Nose rocker for directional power
A nose rocker features rocker only in the nose with camber through the waist into the tail. This profile is found mostly in directional all-mountain skis, because it ensures great grip and power for charging fast all over the mountain. The added grip of a cambered tail means that these skis really power through a turn and the rockered nose will give floatation through soft or variable snow.
3.5 Powder rocker for maximum floatation
In wider freeride skis you’re likely to find a variant of a powder rocker profile. These profiles feature a slight camber underfoot with a considerable rocker in the tips and tails. This ensures a little grip underfoot for piste or variable snow performance with massive floatation and surface area from the tips. Different brands have varying amounts of rocker and camber but the idea is the same. Generally, the more aggressive the camber on a freeride ski the more versatile it will be as it can grip and perform in other conditions aside from soft snow.
4. Flex: the longitudinal flexibility of your skis
Flex is a measure of the stiffness of your skis which affects the turn radius, edge hold and smoothness of your ride. Flex is given a rating between 1 and 10 – the stiffer the ski the higher the value.
Beginners and lighter riders should go for a soft/lower flex. A soft flex is much more forgiving and makes for a lighter, more easily manoeuvrable ski. Beginners also don’t tend to ride as fast so the support of a stiffer flex isn’t as necessary as it would be at higher speeds. Stiffer skis also require more effort to execute a proper turn.
Heavier people will need a stiffer ski with a harder/higher flex so the pressure can be more evenly distributed along the length of the edge. If the flex is too soft too much pressure will go through the middle section, making the ski less stable at high speeds.
If you’re the kind of person who loves to lap the park a softer flex will make your skis easier to spin and butter because the lack of pressure at the tips and tails provides less resistance against the snow. Skis with a softer flex are ideal for freestyle skiers and jibbers.
Many manufacturers combine the positive characteristics of both soft and hard flex ratings. They’ll often make a ski stiffer under the binding to give you better edge hold and stability on landings. From there the flex usually gets a little softer towards the ends to help with tricks, taps and butters. A freeski with a soft tip and stiff tail will give you plenty of float and a good amount of stability at high speeds.
5. Torsion: the torsional stiffness along the longitudinal axes
The torsion of a ski is all about the torsional rigidity of a ski along its longitudinal axis. The greater the torsional stiffness of the ski the less a ski will warp when setting an edge. This keeps the ski at the same angle along the entire edge for more precise turns.
Just like with flex less torsional stiffness is much more forgiving and more suitable for beginners. The harder the flex and the stiffer the torsion the grippier the edges will be which can lead to some painful edge catches if you make any mistakes.
Freestyle and jib freeskis are generally less stiff torsionally than their all-mountain and freeride colleagues.
6. The base, core and construction
Let’s take a closer look now at the construction of your freestyle, jib, all-mountain or freeride ski, the different types of base layer and build and the pros and cons of your new ski’s construction respectively.
6.1 The base: the bottom layer of your skis
There are two different ways to manufacture the base of a ski: by extrusion or by creating a sintered base. Both methods use polyethylene pellets as the raw material which is then shaped.
Extrusion: extruded bases
Polyethylene pellets are melted under extreme heat and squashed together under high pressure. This results in a solid, uniform and durable base layer. Because extruded bases are so robust and durable they’re ideal for beginners. They’re also easy to repair and, therefore, particularly popular with freestyle, jib and street riders. In comparison to sintered bases they’re a bit slower and need more regular waxing, but are cheaper to manufacture and last longer.
In this case the pellets are simply squashed together at extremely high pressures, generating enough heat to melt them together. This creates a base layer of conjoined pellets with miniscule pores in between them. The wax then stays in these pores, making your ski much faster provided they receive the right care and attention. Sintered bases are much harder to repair and more expensive to manufacture than extruded bases. These bases are found more regularly on high-end skis and are recommended for advanced riders.
If you’re planning on riding spring slush or quenching your thirst for shredding on the glacier in summer, it’s definitely worth having a sintered base to give you the extra speed you need.
6.2 The core
The core - a combination of woods, metals, synthetic materials and adhesives - is the heart of your skis. The different materials used have measurable effects on elasticity, shock absorption and the lifetime of your skis. Most of the skis we sell at Blue Tomato use a wood core with laminates, with a small percentage of our kids’ skis using the cheaper foam core.
A large amount of a ski’s performance is dictated by the composite layers built around the core. These are made of various different materials (fibreglass, carbon, titanium etc.) and vary quite a bit from ski to ski. They’re designed to spread the weight of a rider across the length of a ski.
Built-in dampeners help to absorb shocks and impacts and are often made of elastomers and fibre composite materials. They absorb vibrations to give you a nice, smooth, chatter-free ride even at high speeds.
6.3 The construction: from sandwich to shell
As riding gets more technical so too does ski construction. The two ski constructions you’ll come across are sandwich construction and cap construction.
The core and composite layers are glued vertically along with other layers, the edges and the side walls. This construction makes for flexible skis with an exactly definable amount of flex. This is the most widely used construction method and, depending on the materials used for the ski, can result in very stiff skis when made with metals or flexible skis when made with softer woods.
A composite layer is pressed over the top of the core, directing all the pressure from above straight down onto the edges. The top layer is more of a U-shape than a flat layer which wraps around the core. This is the cheapest construction method for skis but keeps the skis both lightweight and durable against impact.
Some brands are combining the bonuses of sandwich and cap constructions. For example Armada use what they call AR Sidewall construction across their whole range. This construction has sidewalls underfoot for better grip and capped construction in the tips and tails for lightness and durability. This construction works really well as it combines the best of both worlds.
7. Freeski length: the right length for all your freeski needs
Choosing the right ski length is particularly important and makes a huge difference to the way your planks will ride. The various factors influencing your decision include a) your height, b) your weight and c) your age.
- The following guidelines should help you establish the right length for your height:
|All-mountain||-5 cm||Your height||+5 cm|
|Freeride||Your height||+5 cm||+10 cm|
|Freestyle||-10 cm||-5cm||Your height|
|Jib||-10 cm||-5 cm||Your height|
- If you’re a little powerhouse there’s nothing stopping you from going for a longer pair of skis. Generally, your skis should be longer the more you weigh.
- If you weigh more than the average for your height go for a longer ski
- When it comes to age, it’s worth considering how much more your body is likely to develop. If you’ve still got a lot of growing to do you’re also likely to get a bit more powerful so it’s worth making sure you don’t get a pair you’ll have grown out of halfway through the season.
Ski length tips
8. Choosing length according to your riding style
Here’s a little overview of the kind of ski size you should be looking at for different riding styles.
8.1 All-mountain ski length: universal and flexible
All-mountain skis want to be longer than freestyle skis but shorter than freeride skis. If you’re riding powder a little extra length will help you float through any snow, but it shouldn’t be too much to stop you from being nice and dynamic on the piste and stable at higher speeds.
- Length somewhere between freeride and freestyle skis
- Dynamic and versatile
8.2 Freeride ski length: extra length for float and stability
Freeride skis are the longest skis around. This extra length gives them a greater surface area making them float better in deep powder snow. The more experienced you are the longer the skis you can ride. Just remember that the larger the ski surface the heavier they’ll be, requiring more energy to use them properly. Pros often go for skis longer than their height but beginners are better off using their height as a maximum.
- Experts and pros: length above or equal to your height
- Beginners: maximum length should be your height
- Maximum float
8.3 Freestyle ski length: the right length for total freedom
You want to get the length right on a pair of freestyle skis because you want them to be nice and versatile. If they’re too short your landings will be harder than with longer, wider skis. They do, however, make you that little bit more dynamic and make it much easier to spin.
You want your freestyle skis to be somewhere between a jib ski and an all-mountain ski so you can ride everything – kickers, pipe, boxes, rails and all the sidehits in between without losing the stability you need for big hits.
- Long enough for jumps and high speeds
- Still dynamic and versatile
8.4 Jib ski length: the shorter the better
Jib skis are either as long as freestyle skis or a little shorter. The most important thing is that they’re light and flexible. Short jib skis let you spin and turn faster and make it easier to hit obstacles without getting caught up. Being nice and short these skis add a little quickness to your riding but won’t be of too much use to you in deep snow.
- A balanced length to keep them manoeuvrable
- Light and flexible
- For slower speeds and medium hits