Freestyle vs freeride snowboarding: What is the difference?

Jul 17, 2017 BY Luke Rees

If you’re fairly new to snowboarding, you will probably have heard freestyle and freeride snowboarding mentioned quite a bit and may be mystified as to the differences. In the greater scheme of things freestyle vs freeride is not a competition of which is the best type of snowboarding, it is more about which style suits you.

Freestyle vs freeride snowboarding what's the difference. Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil

The type of rider you are will affect your choice of board, destinations you snowboard, boarding clothes and even the type of music you listen to – if you believe some of the media. Knowing if you are (or want to be) a  freestyle or freeride snowboarder will affect the snowboarding gear you buy which affects your riding and enjoyment.

You don’t need to make up your mind before you start snowboarding, but to help you know the difference we have put together this freestyle vs freeride guide. It’s also worth pointing out that there are actually over 25 different types of snowboarding.

Freestyle vs freeride: Snowboarding style

Unfortunately there is no simple definition of freeriding as it means different things to different people. If you take it at it’s broadest meaning it is riding all of the mountain and making the most of the conditions to have fun shredding. Based on this it is the most popular form of snowboarding and most of us are doing it without ever labelling ourselves as freeriders.

However increasingly ‘freeride snowboarding’ is used to describe riding off-piste and in powder. In this more narrow definition it is about going fast, taking gnarly lines and hitting natural features to do tricks while away from the pisted slopes. But you don’t have to be a pro to freeride, it’s about pushing your limits on natural slopes and getting to the bottom with your thighs burning, heart pumping and a huge smile on your face.

Freesytle vs freeride Flickr image by acidka

Freestyle snowboarding is all about the tricks, normally in man made situations such as in a snowboard park. So riding through the half pipe, jibbing on rails, buttering the piste, nailing the jumps, pulling off tricks, stomping the landing and riding away like you own the mountain.

Freestyle riding is more about skill and courage than speed. A freestyle snowboarder might try the same trick 20 times in a day and go home annoyed that they have not nailed it. Or course they will be back again the next day and the next until they get it right. This dedication to perfection is what makes freestyle snowboarding so beautiful to watch.

Freestyle vs freeride: The board

One of the main differences between freestyle vs freeride is the board. Differences in size, shape, position of bindings and flex make a snowboard more or less suitable for different riding. But it is very much a sliding scale from one extreme to the other, in the middle you’ll find all-mountain boards which are suitable for a bit of everything.

Freeride boards are typically longer and have a directional shape meaning the nose is different from the tail. The stance on the board is offset towards the back end to keep the nose above the snow in pow. They are often (but not always) stiffer in order to withstand high speed riding but this makes them less forgiving.

At the extreme end of freeride snowboards that are designed solely for powder, the boards have more pronounced differences in shape, setback and size. Although they can still be fun on a piste it makes them much harder to ride when not in powder.

Freestyle vs freeride Wikimedia image by Arthur Mouratidis

Freestyle boards, on the other hand, are normally shorter, sometimes wider and normally more flexible. As a result they are more forgiving which makes them better for beginners. But essentially they are designed for doing tricks, riding rails and offering a more forgiving landing if you get something wrong.

Freestyle boards normally have a centred stance for balance and a symmetrical design, allowing you to ride both regular and switch/fakie no problems. This is important if you want to stomp a landing and ride away without slowing down to flick your board round, never looks good if you can’t ride it switch…..

It is important to add that a freestyle board can still be ridden in powder, in fact some flexible rocker profile freestyle boards are very good to ride in fresh stuff. But they are less helpful in difficult off piste, where the more precise nature of freeride boards come into their own.

Freestyle vs freeride: Snowboarding destinations

Freeriders are at home in more or less any destination if there is fresh snow, or where they can get off-piste to try to find some fresh lines. Although resorts that are renowned for off piste, such as Verbier, Chamonix, Alagna or St Anton will be high on their list.

If there is fresh powder and blue skies a freerider will be shredding the mountain until the light (or their legs) starts to fade. They may still enjoy the odd run through the park, but for the most part it’s about exploring the mountain. This might include hiking off into the backcountry, splitboarding or snowshoeing to get to inaccessible areas.

Review of Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil

Freestylers are looking for the best places to try out new tricks. This usually involves resorts that have a snowpark  and possibly a halfpipe. Dedicated freestylers will session the same rail, box or jump for hours at a time to constantly refine and improve their tricks.

You might also find freestyle snowboarders around town, setting up jumps and attempting to ride man made features such as stair hand rails. But when there is fresh snow, most freestylers will be shredding the fresh snow with the freeriders.

Freestyle vs freeride: Snowboarding lifestyle

This is the section of the freestyle vs freeride guide where we start talking stereotypes….

Freestylers are a little like skateboarders on snow – it’s all very baggy pants with underwear visible, garish combinations of colours, rebellion and whatever music their parents hate. When the snowboarding season is over you will normally find them skateboarding and BMXing.

Freeriders are slightly less hipster-inclined, cloths are still baggy but no underwear is on show, and colours might still be bright but not in eye watering combinations. In the summer season people who love freeriding are often into mountain biking, trekking and climbing.

Halfpie freestyle snowboarding Flickr image by John Lemieux

Dare we say it, freeriders take life a little more seriously than freestylers but freestylers take snowboarding a little more seriously than freeriders. Ok, so now we have stereotyped all snowboarders into freestyle or freeride it’s worth noting that most most riders will fall somewhere in the middle, and depending on the conditions will ride freestyle or freeride.

The bottom line is that both styles of snowboarding are fun and they merge into each other both on the mountain and in the gear you use. Most snowboarders have a favourite but still do both – and let’s face it as long as you’re on a snowboard you will have a smile on your face however you are riding it.

We hope you found freestyle vs freeride snowboarding article interesting and informative. For gear and travel reviews and more inspiration check out the rest of our snowboarding articles, also take a look at our snowboarding discounts as you could save a packet.


Freeride, Freestyle, Halfpipe, Olympics, Snowpark

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