Skiing and snowboarding are both extremely popular winter sports that involve gliding downhill on snow. Both skiers and snowboarders will insist that their chosen method of moving down the mountain is better – so how do you decide which sport is right for you?
If you’re a winter sports novice just looking to get into skiing or snowboarding, choosing between the two is a difficult and consequential choice. In this guide, we’ll highlight the differences between skiing and snowboard to help you decide on which mountain sport will be the most enjoyable for you.
Skiing vs. Snowboarding: A Side-by-side Comparison
|What Is It?||Skiing involves moving downhill on a pair of skis, one on each foot, with your body facing downhill.||Snowboarding entails strapping both feet to a single board and moving downhill with your body facing across the mountain.|
|How Many Boards?||2 – One on each foot||1 – Both feet are strapped to a single board|
|Body Position||Feet facing forward and body facing downhill||Feet facing to the side and your body facing across the mountain|
|Boots||Rigid, strapped into skis with an ejectable binding||Soft, strapped into snowboard using a set of tightening straps|
|Learning Process||Relatively easier to learn for a beginner since you have control over both legs and face downhill||Relatively harder for a beginner to learn because your feet are strapped together on the board|
|Potential Injuries||A fall can twist the knees, especially if your bindings don’t release quickly enough||Your legs are likely to stay together in a fall, but you can impact your wrist or shoulder|
|Suitable Terrain||Skis can handle bumps, ice, and narrow chutes well, but may struggle in cruddy snow||Snowboards handle hardened snow well, but struggle with tight turns, bumps, and ice|
|Styles||Alpine, Freestyle, Nordic, Military||Freeriding, Dryslope, Freestyle, Freecarve|
|History||Invented by Nordic people as a means of moving around in the winter for hunting and war||Invented in 1965 in Michigan as a toy involving two skis strapped together|
Skiing vs. Snowboarding: How to Decide
The vast majority of people will choose either skiing or snowboarding at the start of their winter sports career and then stick with that sport for life. So, choosing between skiing vs. snowboarding is a big decision that can impact how you spend your winters for years to come.
Ultimately, neither skiing nor snowboarding is better than the other – that’s part of what makes the decision so hard. So, how can you choose?
One of the best places to start is to look for mentors. If you have close friends who are skiers and are willing to teach you, that’s a good incentive to learn to ski. That way, you have a built-in support group and friends who you can ski with after you become an expert. On the other hand, if your mentors are snowboarders, you’ll have a much easier time getting into snowboarding.
That’s not to say that skiers and snowboarders can’t mix, but skiers don’t have much insight into how to teach a snowboard to ride and vice versa. In addition, skis and snowboards are better suited to different types of terrain, so it can be hard to skiers and snowboarders to stick together on the mountain.
Another thing to consider when choosing between skiing and snowboarding is whether you’ve had any prior experience on either skis or snowboards. If so, that means you’ll have a head start in learning one of these sports over the other. When it comes to learning to move on skis or snowboards, every little advantage can go a long way.
Cost can be another factor in choosing between skis and snowboards. However, it’s usually a minor one because ski and snowboard packages are very similar in price. There’s also no difference in lift ticket prices for skiers and snowboarders, and lessons usually cost the same too. Expense usually matters most if you can reduce the cost of getting a ski or snowboard setup by borrowing or inheriting a used set of skis or snowboard from a friend or family member.
Finally, if you’re still not sure about which sport is better for you, think about where you see yourself in a few years. Do you want to hang out with other snowboards in the mountain park, riding rails or the halfpipe? Or do you see yourself more charging through moguls or tight trees, which will be easier to do on skis? Both skis and snowboards can handle the vast majority of mountain terrain, but they do have some differences when it comes to specializations like these.
Pros & Cons of Skiing vs. Snowboarding
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- Skiing is typically easier for beginners to learn because you have control over both of your feet
- Bumpy terrain features like moguls and tight terrain like chutes and glades are easier to navigate on skis
- Seamlessly get on and off the chairlift without having to stop and undo your bindings each time
- Skis allow you to walk or skate your way through flat or slightly uphill terrain
- You get ski poles, which are great for helping you up from a fall and traversing through flat terrain
- Skiing opens up more possibilities for backcountry travel in the future
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- Skiing falls are more likely to lead to serious injuries, particularly around your knees
- Ski boots are rigid and many people find them uncomfortable; they’re very difficult to walk around in
- Skis aren’t as suited for terrain park features like rails and boxes as snowboards
- Skis have a hard time pushing through crud and hardened snow
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- Typically harder for beginners to learn because your feet are stuck together
- Better suited for terrain parks and halfpipes
- Snowboard boots are very comfortable and are much easier to walk around in than ski boots
- Falls are more likely to lead to injuries, but snowboarding injuries are usually minor compared to ski injuries
- It’s typically easier to progress as a snowboarder once you’ve learned the basics
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- You’re likely to spend a lot of time falling on your butt when learning to snowboard
- Snowboards have a difficult time on flat or uphill terrain – you’ll likely have to undo your bindings and walk
- You need to undo one binding to get onto the chairlift and redo that binding after you get off
- Even expert snowboards have a difficult time with tight turns, such as through trees and bumps
- Snowboards can have a hard time stopping in icy conditions
Which is More Exciting?
Both skiing and snowboarding are exciting, and skiers and snowboarders will each try to convince you that their chosen sport is the better choice for you. Ultimately, you can make either skiing or snowboarding as exciting as you want them to be.
Skiing gives you access to tight tree-filled terrain and bumpy moguls, which many skiers think is the epitome of excitement. Snowboarding gives you access to the terrain park and halfpipe, which allows you to launch yourself into the air. Both skiing and snowboarding can take you to some very steep slopes and scary – exciting – terrain.
Which is Easier to Learn?
There’s an old adage that skiing is easy to learn, but hard to master, while snowboarding is hard to learn but easy to master. Some skiers and snowboarders will disagree with this advice, but in general it holds true.
Skiing is easier to get started with because your feet aren’t strapped together. Most people feel more comfortable that way, since it feels a lot more like how you normally move around the world. Plus, you’re facing downhill and moving your legs from side to side, and forming a pizza shape with your skis to slow yourself down is relatively intuitive to most people.
Snowboarding, on the other hand, involves strapping your feet together and moving downhill with your body facing across the mountain. For most people, that feels very unnatural and there’s a strong tendency to want to separate your legs. Learning to control your speed by rotating the snowboard is also not a natural skill for most beginner snowboarders, which is why so many novices end up spending a lot of time falling down – it’s a defense mechanism against runaway speed.
However, that starts to change once you get better. Mastering skiing typically takes years of practice, since there’s always more work to do to improve the form of your turns. Keeping your skis together not only when turning, but also when moving through difficult terrain like moguls and tight trees is also much more difficult than being able to achieve basic turns on gentle terrain. As a result, many skiers get stuck in a phase of being okay, but not great, for many years after they learn the basics quickly.
Snowboarders, on the other hand, don’t have much else to learn after they learn to control their speed by rotating their board. The gap between good snowboarders and great snowboarders is much narrower than the gap among skiers. As a result, it may feel like your perseverance at getting through the first few seasons of snowboarding will pay off much more in the long run.
Which is More Dangerous?
Unfortunately, both skiing and snowboarding are inherently dangerous sports – after all, you’re moving down a mountain at high speeds. However, there are some important differences in the types of injuries you’re likely to get from the two sports.
Skiers tend to injure themselves less often than snowboarders. That’s because it’s easier to stay on your feet and fall in a controlled manner than with a snowboard. On a board, with your feet locked together, you expose yourself to unusual directions of torque and can easily land on less reinforced parts of your body like your wrist and shoulder.
However, snowboarders’ wrist and shoulder injuries are typically very minor compared to what happens when a skier gets injured. Skiing injuries usually involved twisting your knees, often as a result of the binding not detaching when you fall. Knees aren’t meant to twist very much, so this can lead to tearing important ligaments like your MCL or ACL.
Again, how dangerous skiing or snowboarding are comes down to how aggressively you ski or ride. If you travel conservatively, your chances of injuring yourself with either sport are significantly lower than if you ski or ride at high speeds or on challenging terrain.
Skiing and snowboarding are both extremely fun ways to spend a winter. Once you learn how to ski or ride, you have a skill that you can apply every year for the rest of your life – and pass on to friends and family who are in the same stage of starting out that you’re in now. Choosing between skiing and snowboarding can be difficult since both sports have their advantages and disadvantages. But by leveraging your network and your past experience and fully understanding what both sports have to offer, you can pick the one that’s right for you.