What is Freeski? Freeride? Freestyle?
The terms “freeski” and “freeride” can be very confusing and are both misnomers. The fact is we all pay to ski in some way! These terms are derived from the fact that they do not involve racing gates. The term “freeski” is used to describe the time spent outside of gates. The term itself is confusing and be construed as wasted time or unstructured time. This is NOT true. “Freeski” time has two main components both with equally important long-term outcomes. “Directed” freeski time is time spent working through a progression of structured drills designed to effect change in someone’s skiing. It’s called learning the fundamentals, and fundamentals are King or Queen, whoever is ruling at the time… These drills are the foundation of the pyramid of development in sport. Without quality time spent doing the drills, we can’t hope to excel in the sport. “Directed” freeski time will establish the core skiing skills that every athlete needs to succeed, no matter what the competitive focus. As a coach it is extremely sad to see athletes skipping the “directed” freeski time. I see this as an attempt to build a house without laying the proper foundation. The building will collapse! The other component is “undirected” freeski time. These are your powder days. These are the days that athletes “cut-loose” and get crazy on the hill. This still serves a purpose, it cultivates the passion for the sport, it boosts fitness, it serves as a reward for all the hard work, and it serves by upping the fun factor. During this time a coach will still throw out reminders of specific skills that need improvement, but will do so in a light hearted manner. As you can see, the term “freeski” is anything but free. It is essential to your athlete’s development within the sport. The learning of new skills happens in the “freeski” environment and then we see if the athlete can bring the new skill into the training venue and then into competition.
In the 1970’s “freestyle” became mainstream with moguls, aerials, and ski ballet. Luckily, ski ballet fell by the wayside and what has developed over the years is an interesting mix of creativity and use of terrain features, both human made and natural. Today, freestyle events consist of mogul skiing and aerials, which are both Olympic sports. They are both judged events. “Freeride” has two components- slopestyle and big mountain. Slopestyle is now an Olympic sport and utilizes terrain park features. Athletes string together features of the park and are judged on a variety of factors. Big Mountain uses the mountain as the terrain. Athletes will ski within a defined area of the mountain and be judged on their control, fluidity, and technique. These modern “freeride” events have been evolving over the last 20 years and have really come of age with regards to organization and professionalism.