Not too long ago, the phrase skiing vs snowboarding would have invoked images of snowboarders jibbing skier’s cars just to get a reaction and skiers flipping the bird as they propelled themselves to the next lift past a group of struggling riders. But the once-fiery feud between skier and snowboarder has long since died down.
Today, skiers and snowboarders share the mountain, and so future snowsports enthusiasts have a real choice to make these days: do I ski or snowboard?
Both disciplines are a great choice for beginners, and you really needn't worry what your friends are doing because the mountain caters to everyone, and you might even benefit from having a mixed group (we'll explain why later).
So you’re heading to the snow for the first time and you’re just not sure which sport to choose. Do you go with your friends and hire a board, or do you take a different route and clip into a set of skis?
We’re going to take you through the upsides and downward slides taking a closer look at the pros and cons of skiing vs snowboarding. Is skiing really more difficult to learn than snowboarding? Which is more physically challenging? Are snowboarders still the cool kids of the mountain?
Keep reading and decide for yourself.
Learning curves - snowboarding vs skiing
The first thing most beginners want to know is which is more difficult to learn: skiing or snowboarding?
While it comes down to the individual (skateboarders and surfers sometimes find snowboarding more natural, for example), most people who have tried both skiing and snowboarding feel that it’s easier to learn the basics of skiing.
Part of the reason for this is that snowboarding can feel pretty weird initially. After all, it demands that you completely change the way you normally get around.
We humans are used to moving our legs one at a time, independently from one another. A snowboard locks your legs together which can feel uncomfortable and frustrating if it’s your first time. How do you move if you can’t move your legs!?
The upside is that once you’ve got your sense of balance, it’s pretty easy to make progress by ploughing sideways downhill.
Skiing, on the other hand, tends to feel either too fast or too slow during your first couple of days on the mountain. It’s all a bit chaotic up until you’ve mastered the snowplough / pizza technique (anyone who has seen a five-year-old drive like an arrow into the queue at a chairlift will know what we’re on about). But once you’ve got the basics of controlling your speed, performing slow pizza-shaped turns, confidence builds encouraging you to start lifting those heels while initiating turns, increasing speed.
Progressing from sliding sideways slowly down a slope on a snowboard is all about learning frontside and backside turns. This stage is perhaps the most stressful for learner snowboarders. Learning to transition from frontside (edging on your toe side) to backside turns (edging on your heel side) can be a slow and sometimes painful process.
You’ll spend a fair amount of time falling on your butt and onto your hands, but when you’ve learned how to ride on your edges, you just might find you're passing your mates still skiing with their heels pushed out as wide as they will go.
This is why it’s often said that skiing is easier to learn, but harder to master: progressing from pizza to parallel turns is like a real-life oxymoron.
Learning to execute full parallel turns takes time and practice. Riding your edges on skis requires you to control both skis independently, but also, in unison.
But once you’ve mastered the task of keeping your skis closer together (without crossing them) while initiating left and right carving turns, you’ll soon be tackling almost any terrain you can find (almost).
So which is easier?
Well, most people will find that skiing is initially easier and might just have more fun if they are only visiting the mountain for a couple of days. However, if you have the time and the willpower, your efforts will be rewarded on the snowboard as you just might find you progress to the upper slopes faster than your skiing buddies.
But if you go for a pair of skis, stick with it! It’s immensely rewarding to reach that point in either discipline where you feel like you’ve finally got it and can go anywhere confidently.
Which is physically more challenging, snowboarding or skiing?
One of the biggest surprises for new snow-goers is just how challenging skiing and snowboarding are. After only a few hours you’ll be needing to take a break and refuel for the afternoon session.
Before hitting the slopes, it’s a good idea to work on your fitness to get the most out of your time.
Both skiers and snowboarders will feel it in their legs, but the demand is perhaps higher on skiers with much of their body weight supported by one leg at a time.
Snowboarders use their core to initiate turns, and of course, to help them up when they fall over.
Our video guide to getting ready for the slopes shows you some great strengthening exercises for skiing (they're pretty great for snowboarding too).
Some upper body strength is going to help when it comes to getting up after a bail as well. This is one of the reasons why very young kids sometimes find snowboarding challenging at the beginning: they lack the strength to leverage themselves up to a standing position.
Which hurts more?
First off, we would like to say that while injuries do happen on the mountain, they are not as frequent as you might have been led to believe. Recent statistics suggest that on average, for every 1000 days skiing days, you could expect to be injured about 3 times. That means if you ski 20 days per year (which is a decent amount for the average Australian) you'll injure yourself roughly every 16-17 years. For snowboarders, the statistical risk is higher, up around 4 injuries per 1000 days snowboarding.
Check out the Sports Medicine Australia fact sheets on downhill skiing and snowboarding for more info.
When you are just starting out, (especially if you are snowboarding) a set of wrist guards is a great addition to your gear. You’ll probably find yourself falling on your hands a lot during the first couple of days, so even though you might feel a bit silly, keeping your radius intact is definitely worth it.
More importantly, you are going to need a helmet. It's common for ski shops to offer helmet hire at no extra cost along with your board or skis these days. But even if they don't, the extra few bucks is well worth it. A helmet is not only great for protecting your dome in case of an accidental collision with another skier, hard packed snow, or rocks, but works great for keeping your head warm in place of a beanie as well (which have the annoying tendency to fly off and fill up with snow if you crash).
Interestingly, the most common cause of injury among skiers is by collision with other skiers or objects (remember that kid flying into the chairlift queue). For snowboarders, injuries most often result from bailing.
Knee and ankle injuries are also fairly common among skiers on account of the fact that a ski tip wedged in the snow has a tendency to stop one leg while the rest of you keeps moving. But your ability to control your speed with the trusty pizza in the early days works in your favour.
For snowboarders, catching an edge leads to hard falls on hands and tail bones. Thankfully ankles and knees are less prone to injury because you’re strapped into that board tight.
Part of the reason why snowboarding can feel harder than skiing at first is because the falls feel harder and come more frequently, especially when you are learning how to link your frontside and backside turns (and vice versa).
But anyone who’s caught an edge on skis knows the wrath of hard-packed snow.
Our best advice? Gear up with wrist guards, strap on that helmet, and don't get carried away with going fast in the early days. Controlling your speed is the ultimate goal as a beginner.
Getting around the mountain
Whether you’re a skier or a snowboarder, at some stage throughout the day you'll look over at someone practising the opposite discipline, smile quietly to yourself and think, “I'm so glad I’m not them.”
Both skis and snowboards have their benefits when it comes to getting around the mountain.
Straight out of the car, snowboarders have it the easiest. Soft comfy boots enable them to walk naturally up to the chairlift, snowboard slung casually under-arm.
If you’re a skier it’s hard not to feel like the snowboarders are the cool kids of the mountain. Because skiers are like fish out of water walking on concrete. Your rental boots will most likely have you bobbing up and down like some sort of extraterrestrial bird, and carrying your poles as well as your skis will initially feel like a handful; a handful you will most likely drop a few times on the way to get your lift pass.
Fear not fellow skiers! Once you’ve learnt how to loop your poles around your ski tips you’ll be carrying them like a pro. And eventually, when you upgrade your gear you might just get a pair of ski boots with walk / hike mode, reducing that dramatic bob to a graceful rise and fall.
It’s fair to say that once skiers clip in they look like seals submerged underwater (er, sort of). Ski poles are great for propelling yourself along at low speeds and it’s easier to clip in and out of skis than it is snowboard bindings once you’ve mastered the art of popping your binding with your ski pole.
Snowboarders, on the other hand, look fine on the snow so long as they are either standing still or riding their board. Unclipping one boot, snowboarders awkwardly waddle to keep up with the moving queue at the lifts and tend to take up more space than skiers, sometimes tripping others and themselves in the process. Traversing flat sections between runs is tiring, and you'll often see snowboarders hitching a tow from a skier by hanging onto the end of a ski pole.
You're going to feel like a huge dork at some stage whether you choose to ski or to ride, but that's all part of the fun.
The challenge of chairlifts
Snowboarders might find the various lift systems more challenging than skiers at the beginning.
Because skiers always travel in a forward facing direction, whether they are skiing or riding a lift, they never have to rotate their torso or skis in order to exit the lift at the other end.
But snowboarders continually switch from riding side on to face forwards on chairlifts. This makes it more difficult to disembark at the top of the slope. First you’ll need to untangle your board from the skiers and boarders sitting next to you, and then line everything up so that you slide away smoothly.
Let’s just say you’ll probably bail a couple of times getting off chairlifts. Just try not to take out your neighbours in the process, and remember to hit the deck as the lift flies overhead.
Which is er, cooler?
It’s impossible to talk about coolness without sounding really-very-uncool. But this is a common concern among many people starting out, especially young people visiting the mountain for the first time.
The simple fact is, if you are a raw beginner, forget about looking cool as soon as you clip in. There is no greater leveller than a face full of snow five minutes after setting foot on the slopes.
It's fair to say, Katie and Candid are both pretty cool.
And while there was once a time when snowboarders were the rebels of the mountain and skiers were uptight upper-class toffs who would prefer to up the prices than allow them on their mountain, that’s well and truly in the past.
These days, whether you’re cool or not usually comes down to how good you are, whether you’re riding two planks or one.
So work hard, get good at whichever discipline you choose and you’ll soon be confident enough to throw on a fluoro one-piece and rock it from summit to carpark.