Powering through powder requires a very specific type of ski, namely long and fat. This gives you maximum flotation for those effortless, dreamy turns. Whether your ripping around within ski resort boundaries or sending it in the backcountry.
Once confined to the outcasts of the ski world, freeride skis now form a huge part of the market and it's not just the major brands who are getting in on the action - scores of independent manufacturers are giving the big guys a run for their money, building skis that compare, compete and sometimes even outgun them.
What is a freeride ski?
The key difference with freeride skis is that they feature generous sidecuts with wide waist sizing between 95 and 140mm. They have a directional shape and often come with big rockers in the tip and a flat tail for more control in deep powder.
How to choose a freeride ski
The overall rule when choosing the best freeride ski is 'go long'. Most people tend to go for a ski that is between 5 and 15cm over their height to give them the best performance off piste. Also consider that if you're particularly heavy or light for your height you should go up or down a few centimetres in ski length to compensate.
A freeride ski will have a shallower turn radius than say a piste ski - this is the curve as you look down the length of the ski. This allows freeride skis to be much wider underfoot making them very stable off-piste but potentially difficult to handle on-piste.
It’s also important to know how well a freeride ski performs on groomed slopes so that you can get home after your epic day in the backcountry without looking like Bambi on ice, an element of versatility here can be useful.
How we review freeride skis
We test for float in the powder, how stable the skis are at speed, how playful they are on variable terrain and how responsive they can be in tricky situations.
The skis below represent the very best within the freeride category for the 2021-2021 season, go forth and buy a pair from the selection below - you won't be disappointed.
These skis are our pick of the best for the job.
Rossignol Black Ops Sender
Men's best freeride ski
The Sender Ti is Rossignols flagship freeride ski, but the non-Ti Sender comes in £65 cheaper, without titanal beam and is significantly lighter.
These construction elements make the Sender more accessible, and although both skis would be worthy of Freeride Ski of the Year, this one edges it.
The Sender is poppy and forgiving, smooth in cruddy snow and ultimately a lot of fun. The air tip makes it super manoeuvrable and lively, while ‘Line Control Technology’ adds torsional stiffness making it playful and responsive to varying pressure on the edges.
All this adds up to an incredibly confidence inspiring ski that wants you to lay out big open turns, and ski as fast as your abilities allow.
- Best for: Freeriders of all ability levels.
- Verdict: A near-perfect freeride ski which is accessible to mere mortals.
- Overall rating: 10/10
- RRP: £585
Nordica Santa Ana 93
Women's best freeride ski
Nordica’s true tip technology makes the Santa Ana stable but playful, with a lighter wood tip than traditional ABS plastic. It also has a blunt nose profile and partial twin tip which is great for impromptu backwards skiing.
Full ABS side walls from tip to tail give enhanced edge hold in any conditions and the ski is surprisingly responsive, making for fun short and snappy turns.
The Santa Ana’s sympathetic profile make it ideal for off piste fun but with the bonus of high-performance features for harder conditions.
- Best for: Women wanting to have a lot of fun on a mix of terrain.
- Verdict: Somehow cheaper than the others in the category but skis a little better.
- Overall rating: 10/10
- RRP: £500
Volkl Kendo 92
Despite having many freeride characteristics, the Kendo 92 is – at least on the face of it – a very all-mountain type ski. It’s at the narrower end of this family of skis and it rails on piste!
We’re big fans of Volkl’s titanal frame construction, which takes the very stiff metal and applies it only around the edges. This minimises the ‘deadening’ effect that Ti can have in the middle of the ski, but makes for super-solid grip. And the Kendo 92 absolutely grips the hardpack whilst being incredibly nimble edge to edge.
Unfortunately it’s a little chattery at speed. The tip absorbs some of the bumps off piste, but that really should be a freeride ski’s bread and butter.
- Best for: All-mountain skiers with one eye on freeride.
- Verdict: Cutting-edge tech and excellent performance make this a blast off-piste.
- Overall rating: 8/10
- RRP: £600
Head Kore 93 W
Head’s Kore have been very successful men’s freeride skis for a few years, so we were excited to try the brand new female models, the 93 and 99 W. They come in shorter lengths and have a more forward mount point - but those are the only changes. Built with the same hardcore construction as the original, these are incredibly lightweight yet stiff thanks to a Karuba wood core, plus graphene reinforcements and a woven polyester topsheet. Graphene is also used in the tip and tail to maintain lightness and responsiveness off-piste, which combined with a rocker/camber/rocker profile makes it a lot of fun in the powder, and even for a spot of backcountry touring.
- Best for Backcountry lovers who want to enjoy it all
- Verdict A wicked - and super fun - women’s ski for the backcountry chargers.
- Overall rating 9/10
- RRP £665
Atomic Backland 85
An ultralight wood core reinforced with a carbon backbone keeps these skis light enough for long days touring and makes them ideal for multi-day outings. In recent years the skis have been reworked to improve attaching and detaching skins, and the shape has been tweaked, with a notched tip that works with Atomic skins to allow for easier attaching and detaching. Atomic skins are pre-cut, which is a big bonus as they fit perfectly, giving problem-free grip on the snow when hiking uphill. An 85mm waist width provides a good balance between float through powder and strong edge hold during traverses, as well as being quick edge to edge.
- Best for: An advanced skier who wants a reliable touring ski
- Verdict: The Backland offers great value and performance in one backcountry-bound package.
- Overall rating: 9/10
- RRP: £400
Scott Scrapper 105
After being panned for its looks last year, Scott have remade the new Scapper 105 - and it’s far easier on the eye. The same full wood construction has also been beefed up underfoot with carbon, which tapers out towards either end. The Scrapper 105 has the ability to throw itself under your body with great agility, meaning that the edge changes feel responsive, even though they’re not carved slalom-type turns. Long turns are solid and edge hold is great, even at speed. The Scrappers are more stable than similar skis, and they’re also lighter than many competitors, so would also work well for ski touring.
- Best for Freeriders after a great touring/freeride compromise
- Verdict If backcountry freeride is your particular niche, then there is no better ski on the market.
- Overall rating 10/10
- RRP £525
Salomon QST 106
Men's best value
With strong competition in the freeride category this season, the QST 106 needed to perform. And it did. A light poplar wood core and the addition of cork in the tip and tail, make for a fun, floaty and classically Salomon type of ski. The cork keeps the swing weight down and helps hugely with dampening. It’s difficult to avoid direct comparisons with the Rossignol Black Ops Sender Ti, not least as we skied them back-to-back, and particularly as the former has scored so highly. The QST 106 is as different to the Rossi as can be, but is just as awesome.
- Best for: Playful, fun-loving freeride skiers.
- Verdict: Great fun, and the soft, light tip makes for incredible turn initiation on hard pack.
- Overall rating: 9/10
- RRP: £550
K2 Mindbender 108Ti
K2’s bright Mindbender 108Ti is a mid-fat banana that is simply bursting with life and feels super eager to take you for a ride. It’s fun all over the mountain, and on test proved surprisingly strong through crud for a ski with so much give in the flex, as well as being way more agile than it has any right to be. This model has a Y shaped titanal plate that softens the edges at the back, and this combined with a tapered shape means you can easily force the tail around in tricky snow. While off-piste you will love the ability to recover turns in crud and smear them out in powder, but on hard pack the tail is far too inclined to slide out and does take some getting used to.
- Best for Freeride purists for whom the mountain is a playground
- Verdict This is clearly going to be many people’s dream ride for fun in all conditions.
- Overall rating 9/10
- RRP £620
Salomon QST LUX 92
Women's best value
Salomon have included a number of cutting-edge technologies in the QST Lux, and the result is added power and dampening properties while remaining lightweight. To tackle the common ‘chatter’ in softer freeride skis, Salomon have used a lightweight honeycomb koroyd tip, reinforced with ABS. The increased dampening with super-light materials gives a ‘more float, less flop’ performance. The Salomon all-terrain rocker 2.0 has a slight rise in the tip and tail, giving added control in variable snow off-piste and helping with easy turn initiation, while the camber of the ski gives full-length contact for stability and edge hold in firmer conditions and on groomed pistes.
- Best for Adventurous skiers who are keen to progress
- Verdict The QST LUX is a great value freeride ski for intermediate to advanced skiers.
- Overall rating 8/10
- RRP £400
Head Kore 105
Head’s freeride range of skis – the Kore family – has scored highly with our testers in recent seasons, but being unchanged for 2020-21, does it still hold up? The key factor in the high performance of Head’s Kore range of skis in recent years has been largely down to their LYT technology, which seems to give remarkable stiffness and power transmission to a ski which should feel twice as heavy. Despite the power bristling beneath your feet, the Kore 105 is not exactly playful. There is certainly pop in the construction, and it’s pretty easy to manoeuvre the ski but it’s just not as lively as say the Kore 99. Nevertheless, it charges. Not the best on piste, but that’s not what it’s for.
- Best for: Dedicated freeriders tackling a variety of conditions.
- Verdict: Powerful, with excellent float, and responsiveness. Great on all backcountry terrain.
- Overall rating: 9/10
- RRP: £665