All-mountain and freeride skis are the two most popular types of skis on the hill. Each comes loaded with benefits for first-time or repeat buyers. However, small differences in their construction make for a big impact on the slopes. And the wrong type of skis can lead to a higher risk of accidents.
In this guide, we’ll dive into the similarities and differences between these two ski categories. With this knowledge at your disposal, you’ll be able to zero in on a style that fits you best. The goal is to leave you smarter, savvier, and better prepared for your next ski purchase.
What Are All-mountain Skis?
All-mountain skis appeal to a range of ability levels. They occupy the area between racing skis (very thin) and powder skis (very wide). This category includes Freeride skis and has a waist size width range of 85-115 mm. All mountains are great because intermediate skiers can use them, and they’re designed to shred the whole mountain.
Most all-mountain skis provide ample power through crud, groomed terrain, and ungroomed terrain. They can even handle a good bit of fresh snow. These skis are referred to as one-ski quivers because they perform well in most conditions, which gets rid of the need for multiple skis.
What Are Freeride Skis?
Freeride skis are a mini category between wide all-mountain skis and powder skis. The approximate waist size width of Freeride skis is between 105-115 mm. They are generally viewed as an advanced type of ski for experienced skiers. Freeride skis are designed for ungroomed terrain and abundant fresh snow.
Freeride skis usually sport a hybrid rocker profile, which adds playfulness and versatility. However, performance at speed and on rugged terrain goes down. They also have a moderate to large turning radius, which limits their use in tight trees or bumps. If you ski lots of soft snow, Freeride’s are fantastic options.
Freeride vs Powder Skis
If Freeride skis do better in powder, shouldn’t you just get powder skis?
The answer to that question depends on where and when you ski. If you are a life-long skier who loves shredding biblical powder, get powder skis.
If you’re like most of us and ski whatever conditions the mountain gives you, go the Freeride route. Freeride skis have the chops to handle deep snow while still being fun if a powder forecast ends up being a bust.
Similarities Between All-mountain And Freeride Skis
Freeride skis are a type of wide all-mountain ski, but not all mountain skis are freeride skis. Both varieties can handle a multitude of snow types.
Typically, freeride skis perform better on ungroomed terrain and in deeper snow. In both cases, you can effectively ski the majority of terrain at a given resort.
Difference Between All-mountain And Freeride Skis
The width range of all-mountain skis is much wider than Freeride skis, so there’s more variety. On the thinner side (85-95 mm), they can fly down groomers and perform seamless carve turns, unlike Freerides.
Many all-mountain skis use a camber profile or hybrid camber profile. Freeride skis skew toward a pronounced rocker profile. Camber is an upward arc in the shape of your ski beneath your bindings; it flattens out when you step into your bindings. The arc helps distribute weight down the length of the ski for smoother turning.
There is a common hybrid profile known as all-mountain rocker present in many all-mountain skis. Here, the ski balances a camber profile and a rocker profile. Rocker is a bend in the tip and tail of the ski that adds float and maneuverability. Rocker is present in both ski types but is more pronounced in Freeride skis.
The turning radius on traditional all-mountain skis is usually less than on Freeride skis. A smaller turning radius gives all-mountains an advantage in trees, bumps, and challenging conditions. Because there are more all-mountain ski models, they tend to be more affordable as well.
Freeride skis, by contrast, are wider underfoot and generally offer stiffer flex ratings. A wider ski gives you more control and flotation on soft snow. However, firm snow, groomers, and hard-pack conditions become harder to handle. Freeride skis can carve, but it takes more effort than narrower all-mountain skis.
Freeride skis lean toward hybrid rocker profiles. This profile utilizes a shallow camber underfoot and pronounced rocker at the tips and tails. Hybrid rockers allow for better fresh snow flotation. If a lot of snow is dropping, Freerides are a blast to ski on.
Between the two types of skis, you’ll see more Freeride skis in the backcountry than common profile all-mountains.
Should You Buy All Mountain Or Freeride Skis?
Ah, the big question. Well, it will depend on the level of skier you are, the type of snow you’re skiing, and how you see your ski journey advancing. For beginner skiers, it's always recommended that you start with rentals.
If you're an intermediate skier who skis whatever the mountain gives you, opt for all-mountains. The piste skiing consistency, stability at speed, and carving ability will help you become a confident skier. Even if you like to dabble in powdered snow, the best sets of all-mountain skis will work well enough and are generally easy to handle.
Bonus points are given to all-mountain skis for their ability to handle firm snow, cut-up snow, and demanding terrain.
If you’re looking to get your first or second pair of skis, I’d recommend narrower all-mountain skis between 85-95 mm underfoot. The selections in our intermediate ski guide fit the bill. Don’t forget to get ski boots, ski goggles, gloves, and a helmet as well.
Freeride skis are sometimes called big mountain skis; which helps illustrate what they’re good for. If you're an advanced skier or expert skier and love off-piste terrain, backcountry, and powder snow, Freeride skis are for you. Unlike powder skis, which only excel on new natural snow, Freerides can handle fresh snow, corn, and ungroomed terrain.
If you know you want something to handle deep powder or backcountry lines, a freeride ski is a great buy. Look for a waist width between 100-110 mm.
While similar, Freeride and All-mountain skis do have differences. All-mountains are easier to handle on a larger variety of terrain and can haul down groomers. Freeride skis are wider and handle soft fresh snow or ungroomed terrain the best.
Take the information above to heart when you’re narrowing down the search for your next (or first) pair of skis. We love providing the details and advice, but the choice is ultimately yours. With careful ski selection, you’ll set yourself up for years of fun.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.