During the early ’90s, snowboarding was the cool thing to do. If you were young and cool, then you snowboarded; if you were old and not cool, you skied. That assumption faded into history now. In fact, many of the best athletes in the world are skiers.
Which is better for beginners: skiing or snowboarding? Can there truly be a winner between the two, or is it entirely personal preference?
We’ve broken down the basics of skiing and snowboarding. Here’s what we found.
To clip into snowboard bindings, most people roll off the lift, sit on the ground at the top of the hill, and do up their bindings. Some bindings let you step in; attachments on the boots snap into place on the bindings. These often get full of snow, requiring some fiddling with your gloves on the ground anyways.
For skis, uphill and downhill configurations are the same. Ride on the lift, ride off the lift, ride down the hill. Outside of a buckle adjustment, there’s no reason to play with your bindings or boots — no need to sit down and flail to get back up. When you are putting yourself back together after a yard sale in the powder, well, that’s a different story.
Yard sale: When a skier or snowboarder takes a tumble on the slopes and loses all their gear.
Most resorts require skis to have brakes, the small metal arms that flip down into the snow if the skis pop off. Why? Skis can become missiles if they slide down the hill on their own and the brakes can prevent an unintended launch.
Snowboards don’t have brakes. Some resorts require users to wear a leash, a small strap connecting your leg to the snowboard in case it comes off. However, unless the board has a snap-in binding, boards don’t usually come off.; the bindings are not meant to release in crashes. Do keep this in mind if you are taking your board off completely.
Starting from Scratch
If you are learning to ski or snowboard from scratch, which one is easier to get rolling (well, sliding)?
Short answer: skiing.
With two individual planks instead of one and poles to help with balance, new skiers can roam the resort within a day or two. Not only does your body face forwards, but one or both skis can be used as brakes.
Having to strap your feet together sideways on one snowboard can be an awkward feeling. Anyone familiar with surfing or skateboarding will already be comfortable with this, but for the rest of us, it’s a foreign feeling. The first few days of snowboarding is a lot of sitting, mustering the energy to take another shot, and then falling again. Once the feeling of edges and balance clicks, and you get the hang of basic turns, then you’re off to the races. Bottom line: The first part of the learning curve for snowboarding is definitely steeper.
The Intermediate Stages
Though skiing is easier right off the bat, it’s often easier to attain intermediate status with snowboarding. Skiing has two skis and two poles to control, which require more strength and skill. Most skiers can recount a story (or many) of skis crossed, poles tangled, landing in a pile of gloves and goggles with cold snow down the neck. Some skiers never graduate from the pizza to french fries.
One board keeps things simple. After learning the two basic types of snowboard turns — toe-side and heel-side — most of the mountain is open for exploration. From there, speed goes up, turns get bigger on open slopes or faster in the trees, and jumps progress higher than a few inches.
Riding the Powder
If there is one thing that might take the icing for this whole competition between one plank and two, it’s powder. There’s just something about surfing around in dry powder on a snowboard. The rest of the world fades away. It’s just you, a board and face shots all the way down.
Powder: Fresh, dry, light (and arguably perfect) snow.
Skiing is great fun in the powder too, but those who have mastered both sports attest to the feeling of carving edge to edge on a snowboard through deep, dry powder.
THE PHYSICAL TOLL
Both skiing and snowboarding are tough on your body. Any bumps in the run have to be absorbed by your legs. Steering means pushing around the board and skis through every turn. Stopping is a quick coordinated movement of your whole body. Going faster means each movement is even more work.
Snowboarding is going to be an ab workout no matter how good you are. Doing up your bindings on the ground and then getting up to ride takes its toll by the end of the day. If you want to skip ab day at the gym, just go snowboarding. On top of that, snowboard bails when still learning can be rough. Wrists and tailbones definitely take a beating.
Skiing is a little easier. There’s no sitting to adjust bindings, it’s simple enough to stop and take a break in the middle of a run, and standing in lift lines with two feet balances nicely.
Skiing isn’t all powder and hot chocolate though. Because each foot can move where it wants in a crash, knee joints are prone to injury. When your body and knee twist but the ski doesn’t follow along, your ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) can tear and surgeons’ golf clubs are paid for.
With separate boards and two poles, moving around on skis is much easier. Sidestepping, skating, and just pushing with poles are relatively elegant ways to move through lift lines, along village trails, or over flat traverses. However, there’s nothing more entertaining than watching a group of new skiers try to get their gear under control. They’ll finally get everything organized only to have a ski slide off their shoulder in one direction and then a pole fall on the ground in the other. Trying to do anything except dance the robot in insanely stiff ski boots just adds to the antics.
On the actual board, snowboarders must resort to the “bunny hop” or suck up their ego and ask for help from their skiing friends — “Can you spare a pole, bro?” — but they have it made walking around the village and to the carpark. It’s easier to act cool with comfy boots and one board slung under your arm.
Lifts and T-Bars
Getting on a chairlift when learning to ski or snowboard is a terrifying endeavor to begin with, but facing forward and slinging two ski poles make it easy. Snowboarding just adds the problem of being sideways and having one foot tied to the board.
T-bars and poma lifts make things worse. T-bars are a metal bar that you lean against with one or two people; poma lifts are a round plastic disc on a short metal pole you put between your legs, then it pulls you up the hill. Both of these things are built for skiers and neither works well for snowboarders. The T-bar and poma lift paths tend to be littered with beginner snowboarders that have desperately hung on, finally letting go only to be run over by the next lift.
WHERE TO SKI AND SNOWBOARD
At the moment, snowboarders are banned at three resorts in the United States: Deer Valley and Alta Ski Area in Utah and Mad River Glen in Vermont. Skiers get to enjoy these hills all to themselves.
The reasons aren’t quite clear as to why they want to stay snowboarder-free. One resort had a lift chair that didn’t work well with snowboarders, but that was replaced in the last few years. It was suggested that one of the owners just didn’t like snowboarders. Whatever the reason, if you prefer skiing with just skiers, you have a few options for resorts.
When skiing the resort isn’t enough, both skis and snowboards are great ways to get into the backcountry.
For boards and skis meant to ski downhill, going up is tough. For snowboarders, snowshoes are an option — simply strap the snowboard on your pack and hike up with snowshoes. In fact, many snowshoes easily fit snowboard boots. Another option for snowboards is to go the splitboard route and pretend to be a skier for the uptrack. The board is split down the center length-wise, transforming into skis, then latching together for the ride down.
For both splitboards and backcountry skis, touring bindings are required that release the heel, letting you walk normally. Sticky skins with synthetic or natural “fur” are stuck to the bottom to grip the snow, then peeled off at the top and tucked in a backpack.
In case of an avalanche, snowboards don’t release from your feet, acting a bit like an anchor. Skis can release, freeing the rider to move around easier. It doesn’t mean you’re safe because you ski — just that you have slightly better chances of ending up near the top of the snow.
Both skiing and snowboarding have pros and cons. Which is better? Depends on who you ask. Or you can do both. No matter what you end up choosing, getting outside with friends on a bluebird powder day is what life is made for.
Oh wait, there are no friends on a powder day. Never mind — just go slide down a hill.