Hailing from the sunny subtropics, I’ve never played in the snow. Ahead of my first fleecy winter, some late-bloomer questions surround the sort of adventure I should prepare for. Which could I pull off – the snowboard or mighty skis?
The winter sports community generally agrees that skiing is easier to learn in the short term but harder to master than snowboarding. Other factors to consider are the athlete’s age, physiology, risk appetite, and practicalities involving access to facilities and equipment.
Getting from indecision to gliding over the fleece requires consideration of the pros and cons of the two activities. Let’s dive right in!
- Define Easier!
- 8 Reasons Why Snowboarding Is Easier Than Skiing
- 8 Reasons Why Skiing Is Easier Than Snowboarding
- How To Choose Between Snowboarding And Skiing
We can differentiate the following considerations when thinking of ease:
- Basic technical skill: The mechanical movements required to get basic mobility from the device. This includes maintaining balance, turning, accelerating, slowing, and stopping.
- Strength: Different levels of physical exertion are required to execute the moves. An activity is easier when it requires less energy.
- Endurance: Physical activities can be differentiated by the effort required to sustain them. Shuffling slowly is technically straightforward and requires negligible energy. But only marathoners can keep it up for hours.
- Accessibility: An activity that is not hard to execute but can only be done on facilities to which the athlete has no access is easy on paper.
- Mastery: Basic skill is necessary. But it does not get you to the levels of performance that make the activity feel worthwhile.
- Safety: Some effort is required to avoid an accident. This is part of the equation, especially for people who are accident-shy. The degree of effort impacts overall ease.
Different people would weigh these factors differently but at least have regard for them. Some of the list items are contextual considerations that vary from place to place. If you’re planning your winter sports in an area that you’re unfamiliar with, do some research to find out how limiting factors like terrain and equipment cost might affect you.
8 Reasons Why Snowboarding Is Easier Than Skiing
We’ll start with the case of the snow skaters. Snowboarding is largely understood to be easier in the medium term. If you don’t have a plane to catch, that could be determinative. The plusses break down like this:
Reason 1: Mastery
Nobody learns a skill in order to be a beginner. Mastering the technical aspects puts you in a position to carry out the techniques that make the activity fun to do. And the consensus is that snowboarding is easier to master.
The basic snowboarding techniques largely cover the full ensemble. Having learned these techniques, there’s not much more to master. Skiing, on the other hand, is much more technically complex. The learning curves are long and steep, meaning that mastery can take long years.
Reason 2: Speed
At slower speeds, balancing and keeping control on skis is easy enough. At high speed, it becomes much harder. This is because of an intensification of the forces involved and the fact that only one leg is available for control at any time.
A maneuver like a high-speed hard turn requires a great degree of coordination and strength in order to maintain control and balance.
With snowboarding skill scales with speed, you’re not left with the feeling that you’re engaging a new set of skills at high speed.
Reason 3: Safety
Both sports have the risk of injury attached. Snowboarders are prone to head and ankle injuries but are less likely to suffer fatal accidents. Snowboarders can reduce their proneness to injury by wearing helmets. The use of kinesiology tape may help muscle activation, buffering against the risk of injury.
Strengthening of the quadriceps glutes and knees is recommended to reduce the injury risk in both sports. Lunges, including weighted lunges, are a recommended way of achieving this.
Reason 4: Portability
Snowboarding equipment is much more portable and therefore easier to manage. This makes the activity of snowboarding easier to execute in practice. It is easier to lug a snowboard and boots on a train, for example, whereas ski equipment is too cumbersome for this.
The portability extends to exercise. If you’re hiking, e.g., moving across terrain that is not snow-covered, it is easier to carry the snowboarding equipment, whereas it is more practical to have the skiing equipment transported separately.
Reason 5: Comfort
It generally is easier not only to learn but to continue with more comfortable activities, as discomfort is a cost that can become unbearable. In this contest, snowboarding is a clear winner.
Ski boots are unusually clunky attire for the foot, and locomoting with them can be pretty unpleasant. Snowboarding boots are the opposite. They’re cozy and walkable. In addition, a snowboard is much comfier to lug around than a pair of skis.
These considerations only partly relate to working out on the snow. But it’s not possible to do that without walking to and about the snow, and this interleaving comfort counts.
Reason 6: Off Piste
Transitioning from prepared to unprepared snow feels radically different on skis. Most of the technique that works on piste does not apply, and a new learning curve needs to be climbed. Recovering from a fall on skis in powdery snow is further complicated by the schlepp of retrieving buried skis.
The off-piste snowboarding technique is very similar to the on-piste. People generally find the transition easy to manage, minimally adjusting the techniques that they already have. There is no initial adjustment time before the experience feels enjoyable.
Reason 7: Cost
From a financial point of view, it is easier to lay your hands on snowboard gear than a skiing kit. This is reinforced by the fact that you need less gear for snowboarding. The costs of transporting gear feature as well. Clunkier skiing gear is more expensive to transport.
Because off-piste snowboarding is easier, you don’t have to incur the costs of accessing a resort in order to snowboard. If you do not have budgetary constraints, that makes it easier for you to disregard cost, but overall, it is an access factor that tilts in favor of snowboarding.
Reason 8: Park Access
Skateboard parks have been adapted for snow resorts. The similarity between skateboards and snowboards means that access to these parks is easier for snowboarders. Being on one board is closer to the skateboarding experience than skiing.
Tricks like slides on boxes and rails evoke the feel of rollerblades rather than skateboards. They feel odd, and to anyone familiar with skateboarding, they will feel odd. The transferability of skateboard skills to snowboards is easier than a transfer of the same tricks to skis.
8 Reasons Why Skiing Is Easier Than Snowboarding
Here we consider the other hand. For those happy to ride a longer learning curve, skiing offers immediate rewards and a well-supported industry in which to continue the journey. These plusses may make it the winter sport of choice for you.
Reason 1: Orientation
On skis, your body faces forward, in the direction of motion. This is familiar to the way in which we normally walk and run and will therefore be easier for beginners.
On snowboards, on the other hand, your body faces at right angles to the direction you intend to move. This is unlike any motion we ever execute (barring surfing and skating) and is therefore harder to get used to. It is tempting to marshal intuitions to regain balance, but these are often wrong, as we’re pointing the wrong way.
Reason 2: Freedom
Skiing can feel like walking in big, super-Bozo shoes. But your legs still carry out a version of the alternating forward motion that you’re used to. Especially if you’re spent a lot of time sliding on your socks.
Snowboarding is harder, as both feet are attached to the board. This will feel unnatural and is that much harder to master. Apart from that, the feeling of moving with your feet strapped in might feel less safe than it is, further inhibiting the learner.
Reason 3: Technical Familiarity
As we said about the clown shoes, skiing provides beginner techniques that are familiar. An example is the Snow Plough. Using only these simple techniques, you can cover ground in no time.
With snowboarding, there’s no familiar ready technique. You have to learn speed control, turning, and ride two edges with different response patterns. This feels like learning to walk from scratch and can trigger despondency amongst impatient learners. And anyone who doesn’t like landing face-first in the slush.
Reason 4: Fitness
Both exercises are aerobically demanding and require the expenditure of energy. Paradoxically, the downhills more than the flats. But because skiing happens in a familiar position, with mobile legs, muscle groups used in walking and running are recruited to execute familiar patterns.
What takes more energy is using muscles in an unfamiliar orientation. They are not trained for this motion and will do it less efficiently, using more energy. On top of that, on a snowboard, you’ll spend more time getting back up on your feet – an energy-intensive expenditure.
Reason 5: Popularity
Snowboarding is big in the USA, but globally skiing is much more popular. This enhances the chance of finding people to join you on your snow adventure. While this does not speak to a technical difference between the two activities, it does affect the chance of you actually getting to do the activity, as that is often socially constrained.
A further advantage of the popularity gap is that it is easier to get practical information and advice, as there is a larger community to draw on for tips and experience.
Reason 6: Child-Friendliness
Skiing has a slight edge here. While children can do both activities, the first skiing lessons start as early as the age of three. For snowboarding, the starting age is eight. The popularity of skiing implies that there are more tuition options for child skiers.
This is another case where the familiarity of skis is relevant, as many three and four-year-olds can have fun by simply playing in the snow with their skis on. This is not an option for baby snowboarders.
Reason 7: Poles
You can’t use poles with a snowboard. These are great mobility crutches that help a skier wend her way down a mountain. They’re usable on the catwalks connecting adjacent trains when deceleration is required. Or when you need to accelerate, which you do by pushing down on the poles.
Poles give skiers more control, which snowboarders can achieve only with body weight. Users do have to manage the risks associated with poles, which can cause injury in the event of a crash and end up getting lost.
Reason 8: Time
Snowboarding takes a longer time to cultivate a basic level of mobility. This means that if you’re a total newbie and training for an upcoming holiday, skiing is likelier an easier choice than snowboarding. You get to spend proportionately a smaller time learning the activity, with more remaining holiday in which to enjoy the slopes.
This consideration also applies to recurring holidays, as skills learned can fall away without practice, leaving you an effective beginner each time you return to your snow holiday.
How To Choose Between Snowboarding And Skiing
By considering your goals and circumstances, the factors above can be weighted to point in the right direction. Key decision factors are:
- Personal goals: What you want to do in the snow might determine which activity is better.
- Patience: If you want a quick payoff with little falling, skiing will be a better bet.
- Perfection: If high-performance matters, you’re much likelier to get there soon with snowboarding.
- Price: If you’re on a budget, money matters, and again snowboarding will provide an advantage.
- Context: Several of the factors above are contextual, pointing to the need to weigh your individual circumstances.
Snowboarding is easier than skiing. But that’s not the end of the story, snowboarding can be hard to learn. Having regard to the points above and taking stock of your own circumstances, the choice you make isn’t clear. What’s more – you don’t have to choose, and with minimal dedication, the best of both worlds could open up to you.
I’m an aged skateboarder and I still shred responsibly. I started skateboarding 25 years ago but also love surfing, snowboarding, or anything that involves a board.