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Snowboarding vs Skiing
Before we look at why either sport would be more suited for you, let’s first look at what each of these is.
What is Snowboarding?
We’re all mostly familiar with skateboarding, and snowboarding is very similar. It involves descending down a slope covered in snow on a board that is attached to your feet using special boots that are set into a mounted binding. This is very similar to how you move around on a skateboard.
In fact, the similarities make sense, given that snowboarding was inspired by the existence of skateboarding, surfing and skiing. It was first developed as a sport in the 1960s in the United States, and in the late 1990s, became a Winter Olympic Sport as well.
However, though it was officially developed around the 60s, snowboarding has actually been around much earlier than that – since the 1920s, when young boys would tie wooden blanks and barrels to their feet, and slide down snow-covered hills using horse reins or clotheslines to maneuver and steer themselves.
The modern version of snowboarding can be attributed to an engineer in Michigan in 1965, who built a toy for his child using two skis that were fastened together with a rope at one end.
Types of Snowboarding
Naturally, with so much time having passed, the sport has evolved and now has different types.
Freeriding is exactly what it sounds like. It involves riding freely on any terrain, where the only bound is that you have to be on a mountain (otherwise, you wouldn’t have the slope to slide down). This type of riding involves riding natural features, in that you follow the slope where it takes you, and add freestyle elements to the ride. The limitations to freeriding are around the access to the mountains, and the dangers that may exist in some mountainous terrains, such as avalanches or crevasses.
Freestyle is used to refer to the kind of snowboarding that involves performing tricks, similar to skateboarding. This can be in terrain parks where snow-covered peaks are found, or in urban environments. Freestyle riding is very popular nowadays, especially as tricks become more advanced and new tricks are derived by dedicated snowboarders. The limitations to freestyling are really only your own creativity.
As the name suggests, urban snowboarding is about using existing features in urban landscapes – particularly human-made ones. This includes things like handrails, parking structures and even walls. These features have provided snowboarders with a playground of sorts for riding outside of dedicated resorts and natural terrains. Due to how accessible it is, urban snowboarding is very common and is only growing in popularity. A lot of snowboarders have adapted to their urban environments and are making use of what features they can get.
As with all other sports, races are also common in snowboarding. These include slalom, giant slalom and boardercross. Boardercross is similar to BMX riding, where riders race down a course with jumps and hurdles, while slalom involves racing through a series of gates. These sports mainly exist alongside ski races of a similar sort, and are not quite as common as other kinds of snowboarding, even though it is considered an Olympic sport.
Half-pipe snowboarding is derived from skateboard vert riding, where riders ride through a massive U-shaped feature, and perform tricks. You’ve probably seen some form of it in skateboarding, and this also exists in snowboarding, having become more popular thanks to the Olympics.
Nowadays, there are plenty of massive pipe productions that use snow machines and precision shaping to give riders the features needed to ride half-pipe. Some larger pipes also help with speed and give them the space to invent and perform newer, more creative tricks. That said, these do have limitations around how costly they are to maintain and create, and are not quite as accessible. In fact, this may also end up hindering their evolution.
Learning to Snowboard
Snowboarding involves using edges like your heels and toes for all the maneuvering and movement, and managing this can be tricky, which is why snowboarding is a bit difficult to learn for beginners, especially if you’ve never played a similar sport before.
Since snowboarding involves being attached to a single board (called a monoski), your movements become more restricted and it is difficult for new snowboarders to stay on their feet. Your first day, you’re likely to spend more time on the ground than actually on the board.
Snowboarding involves a lot of skill with staying balanced and upright, being able to stop the board and turning to change your direction. Because all of these involve the use of edges, as mentioned before, it can be difficult to do with only one board to have both feet attached to.
This is why snowboarding is difficult for beginners to grasp properly, and can take time to fully come to grips with. That said, while the basics do take time, once you’ve managed to figure them out, it becomes a lot easier to get more advanced control over your movement and figure out newer snowboarding skills.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Snowboarding
As mentioned, once you have the basics down, progressing from there is a lot easier. It is also a lot easier to go off-piste (the snowboarding word for ‘track’) on a beginner board with snowboarding, and you don’t have to manage any ski poles. Snowboarding boots are also easier to walk in and more comfortable, and you are less likely to suffer from leg injuries.
An advantage that most people may not necessarily see as one is that because of the difficulty in learning the basics, you have the chance to stop as a beginner, rather than progress a bit and be unable to move forward.
Though snowboarding has some benefits over skiing, it also has some downsides. For one, it takes much longer to learn – even standing on the board takes time to figure out. Snowboarding also involves a lot of strapping in and out of your boots to move around. It is also much harder to move on flat ground without ski poles and you often have to unbind a foot and use it to propel yourself forward. Injuries are also more common for your upper body with snowboarding.
What is Skiing?
Having looked at snowboarding, let’s now look at skiing. Skiing involves sliding down snow-covered hills on flat skis that are bound to your heel. There are different kinds of skiing, but the most common one is downhill or Alpine skiing.
The sport began way back in 1861 in Australia as a club sport, though some think it can be traced back all the way to 6000 BC. Nowadays, most skiing occurs at ski resorts where ski lifts can take skiers up the mountains from where they ski downhill.
The snow at such slopes is often groomed to avoid any chances of avalanches, and the trees are cut out of the way to make sure the trail is clear so that any injuries can be minimized. Resorts will often also have snow-making equipment that lets the resorts function during seasons when the weather wouldn’t necessarily allow it.
Some skiers prefer going for less controlled environments – that is, down natural mountainsides. This is called ski touring or extreme skiing.
Skiing also exists as a competitive sport, with slalom, giant slalom, super giant slalom and downhill skiing being the main options.
Learning to Ski
Most experts agree that skiing is easier to pick up than snowboarding. This is because skiing is, as we mentioned earlier, more intuitive for beginners. With snowboarding, it takes time to even manage to stand on the board for the first few days, but with skiing, this is much easier.
With this sport, because your feet are attached to two different boards instead of just one, they are held further apart, which gives you balance, and you are also able to move each leg independently. This means that you are more capable of controlling your stance and position and thus less likely to fall.
Skiers will often face forward with their legs parallel because many beginners find this position easy to adopt. From here, it gets a bit difficult.
Understanding the basics and managing your balance is easy, but learning advanced tricks can be tough to figure out, and can take up to three or four winter seasons to fully grasp. That is why while skiing is easy to understand as a beginner, it is much more difficult to progress with, and you’d find yourself being called a ‘beginner’ for a much longer time.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Skiing
There are still a number of pros to skiing. It is easier to pick up the basics, so beginners will spend less time on the ground and more on their feet, which helps with building confidence around the sport. Skiing also gives more visibility as you go downhill, due to the straight-on stance.
If you’ve learned how to balance in any other sport, you’ll figure out the balancing in skiing pretty easily too.
While there are a good number of benefits, there are still some downsides. New skiers often find themselves tripping over their skis until they figure out how to balance themselves. As mentioned earlier, it takes time to master the technicalities of skiing, which can have an impact on your confidence. You also have to carry around your skis and your ski poles.
It’s also difficult to learn how to stop for beginners, and you can’t take your beginner skis off-piste either.
What Affects Your Learning?
While both skiing and snowboarding clearly have their pros and cons, how do you decide if you’re able to learn either one of them? And which one should you go for?
Generally, while you can learn either of these sports at any age, younger people are more likely to learn them faster, so age does contribute to your learning curve.
Your strength and fitness also play a role. Since both of these sports require you to be stable on your feet and have good core strength. The less fit you are, the longer it may take you to be able to balance yourself, and you might even put yourself at risk for injury.
Both sports involve sliding down a mountain slope, and this can be a risky thing for some people. The timider you are about taking risks, the longer it will take you to step out of your shell and make progress. You need to approach both sports with determination and a go-for-it attitude if you want to master either of them.
And of course, most importantly, you need to have a good history of being able to balance yourself and train your reflexes. If you aren’t able to react quickly to your board or ski movements, or at the sight of hurdles and obstacles, you’ll have difficulty learning how to do either one.
That said, how do you know which sport is right for you?
The answer boils down to your own preferences. If you’re looking for a sport you can get the basics for, you may want to opt for skiing. If you don’t mind taking time with the basics, snowboarding may be your option.
You should also consider whether you’ve played a similar sport in the past when making your decision. After all, if you’ve skateboarded before, you may find snowboarding to be much easier than skiing.
Regardless of which sport you choose, you will have to dedicate some time to your learning, if you want to succeed, but with enough practice, you’ll be sure to get there.
About THE AUTHOR
From a young age I was introduced to fishing, hiking, camping, snowboarding and more through family, friends, and scouting. After 20 years of learning and participating in these outdoor activities, I share what i've learned (and continue learning) with you.Read more about Scott Kimball