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Freeride vs. Freestyle Snowboards: What's the Difference?

Published on 01/17/2024 · 8 min readChoosing your snowboard style? Learn the key differences between freeride and freestyle snowboards, from design and flexibility to terrain use.
Miguel Machado, Snowboarding Expert
By Snowboarding Expert Miguel Machado

Photo by Maksym Fesenko

Tl;dr: Freeride snowboards are designed for powder and off-piste riding. They utilize directional shapes and setback stances to lift the nose above deep snow. Freestyle boards are designed to excel at freestyle tricks and competition. They utilize softer flex and true twin shapes that can be ridden equally well in either direction.

When I first started riding more than a decade ago in Killington, Vermont, I was enamored with the freestyle snowboarding scene. After a day of riding across the six peaks that make up the mountain resort, we spent our evenings watching the latest video clips from the Dew Tour. The next day, it was straight to the park to try and imitate our favorite riders.

However, as we got older our attention gradually shifted away from the terrain park and out yonder towards gnarlier terrain. We wanted steeps and tight tree runs and fresh powder stashes. And that’s how we learned that our freestyle-oriented snowboards just wouldn’t cut it in the side country.

In this buyer’s, we’ll go over the differences between freeride snowboards and freestyle snowboards, the different tech and features that often go into their designs, and what to look for when shopping for one or the other.

What Is a Freeride Board?

Photo by Ben Kitching

A freeride board is a type of snowboard specifically designed for the discipline of freeride snowboarding, which is characterized by a focus on riding natural or ungroomed terrain outside of resort boundaries in either the side country or backcountry areas.

Because of this, freeride boards are usually stiffer and longer than their freestyle counterparts. The stiffness gives them quicker response times edge to edge, which is necessary when navigating tricky natural terrain, and the added length helps with float in powder. Longer boards aren't the only option to ensure float, as some freeride boards will actually shave off a few centimeters and increase width to achieve a similar effect.

What Is a Freestyle Board?

Photo by Maxim Blinkov

On the other hand, a freestyle board to excel at throwing tricks. Freestyle riders often spend most of their time in groomed terrain parks or on snowy city streets where they’ve either created the features or had time to study them and understand the variables. Freestyle boards tend to have a softer flex, which helps with board feel (sensing what’s happening under your feet) and overall maneuverability.

They also utilize a true twin shape for added stability. The true twin means that the nose and the tail of the board are identical and the board will ride relatively the same whether landing nose first or tail first. This comes in handy when doing spins.

What to Consider When Buying a Freestyle or Freeride Board

Photo by Nick Russill

Which Board Best Fits My Riding Style?

If you spend most of your time on the slopes doing park laps, you probably already own a freestyle board. The same goes for a freeride board if your idea of a perfect day is riding in the backcountry.

But what if you’re somewhere in between? Well, if you’ve got a fairly mellow riding style and prefer to mess around on groomers, then you can’t go wrong with a freestyle board. Not only will they provide a more forgiving, more stable ride and lower speeds, but the softer flex of a freestyle board also lends itself to getting funky on fresh corduroy with nose presses, tail presses, and butters.

If, however, you like to charge hard, prefer the steeper, more technical runs at your local resort, and rarely find yourself riding switch (riding on your weaker side), then a freeride or all-mountain snowboard is probably better for you.

Which Board Best Matches My Skill Level?

Skill level is a big part of board selection. While I always recommend going a little above your current when buying a board, too big of a leap can actually hurt your progression. So for beginners and intermediate riders, I find that freestyle-oriented boards tend to be a better fit.

The soft-medium flex makes for a mellower ride that won’t over-compensate for your body’s input as you learn the basics and make you catch an edge. And because beginner riders can often end up on their switch side as they ride, having the twin-shaped board can help avoid falls.

On the other hand, freeride boards are usually the territory of advanced and expert riders. Their stiffer profiles make them incredibly responsive and stable at high speeds but require a combination of strength and skill to maneuver. For example, one of my cousins purchased a Burton Mystery Custom X in his second year of riding and compared it to riding a table. It was simply too much for him to handle at the skill level he was at.

Directional Boards

Directional snowboards are meant to be ridden with the nose always pointed down the mountain. They usually feature a distinct nose versus the tail. A good example of a directional snowboard are fish or swallowtail snowboard.

Volume-shifted twin boards can also be considered directional, however, as the nose and tail might look identical. The nose’s greater volume coupled with a tapered sidecut allows the tail to sink and the nose to rise, which equals better float in powder.

Stance Setback

While your stance can be adjusted via your binding placements, some freeride boards come with a predetermined amount of setback. This means that the binding insert pattern is moved back by a couple of millimeters, putting the back foot closer to the tail. This helps with floating in powder, but keep in mind: the more setback, the less stable you’ll be on landings. So if you like to drop cliffs, a more centered option might be the way to go.

Flex

We mentioned that freestyle snowboards are usually softer than their freeride counterparts, but you’ll still want to pay attention to the flex rating when shopping for your freestyle board as it will impact how it rides and what kind of tricks the board excels at. Softer flexing boards are usually better for flatland tricks, jibbing, and rails as they bend easier and give you a better feel for what is going on under your feet.

Medium-stiff boards tend to be better for freestyle disciplines like pipe and big air as the extra stiffness means more control and the ability to carve well and control your take-offs better.

Profile

Profile is the specific way a snowboard is bent. The three main profiles are camber, flat, and rocker; however, it isn't uncommon for modern boards to utilize hybrid profiles.

  • A camber profile or cambered snowboard is the traditional and most common profile available and bends toward the ground. This means camber boards tend to have better edge hold, ideal for carving and icy conditions. They also have the most “pop” when it comes to ollies or jumps. However, on its own, this profile is not great for riding pow.
  • A rocker profile or rockered board, also known as reverse camber, bends away from the ground. This makes for a mellow, skiddy ride that is great for riding powder but, as there is less edge contacting the ground, sacrifices control and responsiveness.
  • A flat profile is where the board neither bends away nor toward the ground. This provides great stability and is preferred by riders who like to jib or hit rails and don’t want to worry about catching an edge or sliding off. However, flat boards have less pop and control than camber and don’t float as well as rocker profiles.
  • Hybrid camber or hybrid rocker profiles usually combine aspects of the three aforementioned profiles to offset the individual drawbacks of each.

How to Choose the Right Freeride or Freestyle Snowboard for You

Photo by Local Cinema

While it might seem a bit complex, the right combination of the above features can turn any manner of terrain into a good time. So let’s take a look at some concrete examples of how they impact the freestyle or freeride experience and what that might mean for you.

Marc

Marc is an advanced all-mountain rider looking to take his turns into the backcountry for the first time. With a mellow, surf-inspired style, he is shopping for a snowboard that would help him bridge the gap between all-mountain and freeride, with an emphasis on something powder specific.

Features Marc should look for:

  • A traditional camber snowboard with a longer length to compensate for the downward bend and assist with float
  • A rockered snowboard with a medium-stiff flex that will compliment his surfy style while providing increased responsiveness necessary for backcountry riding
  • A directional board that helps him float through powder

Board examples: Jones Aviator 2.0, Arbor Crosscut Rocker, Burton 3D Fish

Danielle

Danielle is a hard-charging street snowboarder. When she’s not on the mountain she’s scoping out spots and rails around her neighborhood. She’s looking to upgrade from her current board without breaking the bank.

Features Danielle should look for:

  • A smaller flat or flat hybrid board that will leave her extra stable on rails
  • A cheaper board with an extruded base that will stand up well to her street sessions

Board examples: CAPiTA Space Metal Fantasy, Decathlon SNB100

Find the Best Board for You

Now that we’ve covered the design differences between freeride and freestyle boards, what to account for when making your buying decision, and what kind of riders might utilize each. But if you are still not quite sure which board is right for you, contact our Curated Winter Sports Experts for free advice on everything from which new boards you should be looking at to which boots work best with which bindings.

After all, snowboard gear isn’t just a purchase, it’s a necessary tool to enjoy the sport. But when you get it right and find the gear that best suits you, it’s an investment in years of good times and outdoor adventures. Take it from a city kid who discovered the wonder of the mountains and hasn’t looked back since.

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