Skiing vs. Snowboarding: Which is Better?
So you’ve made the decision to go up to the mountains. That’s great! But now you need to make your second decision. Skiing vs. snowboarding – which sport is better for you?
If you’ve never been to a ski resort before or are just starting your research, don’t feel stressed. This guide will break down the pros and cons of each to help you in deciding whether skiing or snowboarding is right for you.
Quick Summary - Skiing vs. Snowboarding
|Easier to Learn
|Easier to Master
|Less Fitness Required
|Easier on Chairlifts
|Mobility ON Mountain
|Mobility OFF Mountain
|Cheaper to Rent
|Cheaper to Buy
Which is Easier?
Majority of articles on this topic will start with the common phrase, “Skiing is easier to learn but harder to master; snowboarding is harder to learn but easier to master”. This is because generally speaking, it’s true.
Skiing is usually more intuitive for beginners. For starters, on skis you’re facing the direction you’re going. Whereas on a snowboard, you’re standing sideways and having to look over your shoulder. On a crowded bunny slope, it can be stressful to focus on learning while also trying to pay attention to your surroundings. With skis, you can see people and objects in your general path. With a snowboard, your vision is more limited because of your sideways stance.
For skiing, your legs are also separated on two different planks, which feels more natural. One of the first things you’ll learn is how to snowplough, or “pizza”. In this position you form a V-shape with your skis, making it easier to control your speed and turns because of how far apart your feet are. With snowboarding, on the other hand, your feet are attached to a single board, which can feel more awkward and restrictive. It’s also more challenging to keep your balance.
Keeping the above points in mind, your first week on the hill may look very different depending on if you’ve chosen skiing vs. snowboarding. As a skier, you’ll likely be standing up and making solid turns within your first couple of days. As a snowboarder, you’ll likely be falling down a lot and spending more time on your bum than on your feet. No matter which sport you choose, expect to be sore by the end of the day!
After Some Practice
Snowboarding is typically easier to master. Once comfortable with the basics, snowboarders can typically progress much faster than skiers. If you can confidently turn using both your toe-side and heel-side edges, you can advance to more difficult terrain. Improving how you link your turns and increasing your speed is also easier to achieve on a snowboard.
Although skiing is easier to start with, it’s difficult to perfect the technique. You may quickly become comfortable with riding down gentler terrain, but it takes practice to carve smoothly down the slope. One of the first steps to advance your skills is to upgrade from “pizza” to “french fry”. This means starting to make turns with your skis parallel to one another, rather than in a wedge formation. Learning how to use your poles to your advantage and navigate through bumps are also challenging techniques to master.
More often than not, the obstacles that get in your way to improving are mental, rather than physical. This is regardless of whether you choose skiing vs. snowboarding. When you take a step back and think about it, you’re literally hurling yourself down a mountain with just some wood under your feet! Although mostly fun, this can also be intimidating and scary. As you encounter mental blocks on the mountain, try your best to let go and relax. Learn the foundations so that later on you can find comfort in the fact that you know enough to get yourself safely down the slope.
How Fit Do I Need To Be?
Both skiing and snowboarding require balance, stamina and strength, especially in your legs and core. They’re also great cardio workouts that help you burn calories. Therefore, it’s important to think about how to get in shape for ski season before hitting the slopes. According to Under Armour’s myfitnesspal exercise calculator, a person weighing 150 pounds can burn anywhere between 340 to 422 calories per hour. Note that this only includes the actual ride time, not time spent sitting on the lift!
Both skiing and snowboarding are complete lower-body workouts. With a wider range of lower-body muscles being used in these sports, you may feel sore in areas you haven’t before. You’ll be using main leg muscles, such as your quads, as well as smaller support muscles around your knees and ankles. Every bump in the run is absorbed by your legs. This is one reason why skiing on ungroomed terrain can be more challenging.
Your core muscles are also constantly engaged to help with stabilization and balance as you ride down the mountain. You’ll especially feel this as you learn to make shorter, quicker turns. Also, snowboarders specifically benefit from core strength because they are constantly sitting down and getting up throughout the day.
As a beginner, snowboarding is typically more demanding than skiing. You’ll likely be falling a lot, which can take a toll on your body. Also, it’s tiring to constantly sit and get up off the ground to adjust your bindings. For skiing, you’ll mainly use wedge turns to slowly make your way down and have poles to help you balance. In general, it’s less intense. However, it’s important to note that on flat areas of the mountain, skiers use their poles to push themselves along. This engages the tricep muscles, so skiers may get a bonus arm workout!
There are many different ways to train for skiing and snowboarding if you’re concerned about your fitness level. Both sports require endurance and muscle power, which is why you should incorporate both cardio and strength training into your routine.
For cardio, we recommend biking, swimming, paddle boarding or running if you’re able to handle the higher impact to your joints. For strength training, make sure to include exercises that target your quads, glutes, hamstrings, hips and obliques. Interval training is another great form of workout to add to your routine. It mimics how you need to push yourself to complete the run but then get a break after to catch your breath as you ride up the chairlift.
Which is More Dangerous?
Skiing and snowboarding are inherently risky sports and considered dangerous. This is why when you buy a ski pass, you’re required to sign a waiver that states the ski area is not liable for any harm or damages that you sustain while riding there. Generally speaking, snowboarding has a higher rate of injuries but skiing injuries are more severe. The most common injuries for each sport are different because of the way people tend to fall.
Types of Injuries
Although having your feet separated can help you learn faster, this can also result in more knee-related injuries for skiers. When you fall, your legs can more easily twist in different directions. This can cause hyperextension of the knee. The most common lower body injuries among skiers are anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee sprains, medial collateral ligament (MCL) knee sprains, lateral collateral ligament (LCL) knee sprains, and tibia fractures. Less common ski injuries are to the head, shoulders and thumbs.
Snowboarding is much easier on your knees. Snowboarders often try to catch themselves when they fall, whether it’s forwards or backwards. This is why injuries to the upper extremities are most common in snowboarding, such as wrist, hand and collarbone fractures. More advanced snowboarders also tend to use their hands to try to stabilize themselves after hitting a jump, which can also result in such fractures. Less common snowboard injuries are to the head, knees and ankles.
We hope that this information is educational and doesn’t discourage you from trying skiing or snowboarding. Despite the inherent risks, the number of severe injuries resulting from these sports are lower compared to other activities we do everyday, such as driving. Ski areas have experienced patrol teams on duty to help in case of an emergency. For more safety information, check out the National Ski Area Association (NSAA) Slope Safety Fact Sheet.
What About Riding the Chairlift?
Riding the chairlift is definitely easier for skiers than for snowboarders. This mostly applies to getting off the lift. Snowboarders have to take their back foot out of its binding and place it freely on the board. With only the front foot clipped in, it’s difficult to steer. Uneven terrain or bumps in the snow can cause snowboarders to fall or run into other people. Skiing is much simpler since you remain locked into your bindings and can glide smoothly off the lift.
How to Load and Unload
Once it’s your turn to get on the chairlift, move up to the “load here” line. Skiers can use their poles to help push them. Snowboarders will need to take their back foot out of its bindings and skate there. When the chair reaches the back of your legs, simply sit down and let it take you up. Snowboarders hips will remain slightly turned to keep the board straight while riding up. If you’re a beginner, always use the safety bar.
When approaching the top of the lift, both skiers and snowboarders should keep the tips of their skis and boards up to prevent them from getting snagged on something. For skiing, keep your knees slightly bent and hold your poles with one hand in front of you. For snowboarding, keep your front shoulder pointed forward and your back foot on the board. Then slowly glide to a stop away from where people are exiting the lift.
Which is Easier to Get Around With?
Skis and snowboards each have their pros and cons in terms of navigation. Skis are easier to move around with on the mountain, whereas snowboards are easier to move around with off the mountain.
Mobility On Mountain
It’s easier for skiers to navigate around the mountain than for snowboarders. Skiers can use their poles to push themselves along flatter traverses. These types of areas are not uncommon, especially around beginner terrain. They can also use other techniques, such as shuffling or skating, to keep their momentum. Snowboarders have a tougher time with this. They either have to hop along with one foot locked into their bindings or take the board off and carry it.
Snowboarders have to strap in and out of their bindings every time they get on and off the ski lift. Skiers can dismount from the lift and immediately start their next run. It’s also more of a nuisance to stop mid-run on a snowboard. To take a break, you have to sit down on the ground since there isn’t an easy way to stand still on a board. This can also mean a colder bum by the end of the day in comparison to your friends on skis!
One positive note for snowboarding is that when you fall, you remain attached to your board. This makes your recovery much smoother. If you fall hard enough on skis, they can detach from your boots. It can be embarrassing, and definitely tiring, to have to trudge up the slope to get your skis or poles after somersaulting to the ground.
Mobility Off Mountain
When you’re ready to take a break at the lodge or call it a day, getting around with a snowboard is much less cumbersome than skis. First and foremost, snowboard boots are way more comfortable than ski boots! Snowboard boots are soft and allow you to walk naturally. Meanwhile, ski boots are tight and restrictive, making them extremely difficult to walk in. Going to the bar for après straight from the slopes is more appealing for snowboarders than skiers for this reason.
There’s also less to deal with when carrying your gear around. As a snowboarder, all you have to worry about is your board. As a skier, you have to carry your skis and your poles (while walking around awkwardly in your ski boots). It can also be a struggle to keep your skis locked together so that you can easily carry them. Not to mention, skis are often heavier than snowboards.
Which is Cheaper?
When you’re first trying out skiing or snowboarding, it makes sense to rent the equipment. Once you’re sure you’re going to spend enough time on the slopes to justify the purchase, you can invest in your own gear. The rental cost for ski and snowboard gear is about the same. This will differ shop to shop, so make sure to check the prices ahead of time.
Generally speaking, buying skis is slightly more expensive than buying a snowboard. Many shops offer season rentals, and some ski resorts host demo days where you can try out a specific brand’s gear. These are great options to test out different skis or boards throughout the season to help inform your purchase.
Which is More Popular?
Skiing is more popular by a decent margin. According to Statista, there were 7 million active skiers and 2.2 million active snowboarders during the 2017/18 season in the United States. With that being said, it’s not necessarily notable on the mountain. Expect to see a mix of skiers and snowboarders on the slope, unless you choose to go to a skier-only resort. In the United States, this includes Deer Valley (Utah), Alta (Utah) or Mad River Glen (Vermont).
To provide some context, when snowboarding started to rise in the United States in the 1980’s, resorts were baffled on how to respond. Many skiers perceived snowboarding as a reckless sport that threatened their way of doing things. As a result, snowboarders were often banned from ski areas during this time (not that this stopped them from getting some runs in). Snowboarding has obviously become more mainstream as time has passed, and most resorts allow snowboarders.
Which is Faster?
If a skier and snowboarder were bombing down the same slope with recently tuned and waxed gear, a skier would likely get down faster. You can move more efficiently in a forward motion than in a lateral motion (try running sideways). There’s more symmetry with your body carving on skis, and the tuck position reduces drag significantly. Skis are also typically longer than snowboards. More surface area means your weight is distributed more evenly, which can help with speed.
Other Common Questions
Which is More Fun?
This is tough as athletes from each sport will say that theirs is more fun. Picture speeding down a steep peak and popping in and out of the trees. If this sounds fun, maybe skiing is right for you. Or imagine cruising through thick powder and making the most of every bump with some tricks. If this sounds fun, maybe snowboarding is right for you. In both of these scenarios, you can technically ride on skis or a snowboard. You really can’t go wrong!
Another factor to consider is other sports you enjoy or have participated in the past. For example, if you like rollerblading or ice skating, you might pick up skiing quicker and enjoy it. The movements are similar, and balancing on blades or skates transitions well to balancing on skis. If skateboarding or surfing is more in your wheelhouse, than you might enjoy snowboarding more. You’ll already be comfortable with the sideways stance, and balancing on a skateboard or surfboard is similar to balancing on a snowboard.
Which is Better for Kids?
With advancements in equipment, kids can really start with either skiing or snowboarding. The learning curve still applies at a young age, however, so it’s easier for children to learn how to ski than to snowboard. This is because young children don’t have their motor skills fully developed and lack coordination and balance.
A general rule of thumb is that you can start your kid on skis as early as three years old, and then transition them to snowboarding when they’re about seven years old. This way they get a general feel for how to move on the snow and know the basics before putting them on a board.
However, if your little one thinks snowboarding is the coolest thing in the world, there’s no reason they can’t start there. There is snowboard gear available that’s tailored toward making learning easier and safer for kids. For example, Burton has a few different models that can be used with or without bindings and have cords that allow you to pull your child along on the snow. Both skiing and snowboarding require patience and hands-on teaching, but it will be worth it when your family can enjoy winter vacations for years to come!
Which is Better Off-Piste?
First off, you may be wondering what on-piste and off-piste skiing means. Groomed, or on-piste skiing, refers to areas that are maintained and patrolled to provide a safer experience for guests. Backcountry, or off-piste skiing, refers to areas that are not maintained, marked or patrolled either inside or outside a ski resort’s boundaries. There is higher risk of avalanches, rock fall and cliffs in these areas.
Both skiing and snowboarding can be done in groomed and backcountry areas, depending on an individual’s capability and preference. Transitioning from on-piste to off-piste is often easier for snowboarders than skiers. The techniques are similar, and wow is it a magical feeling to float through powder for your first time on a snowboard! Skiing in the backcountry, while also magical, has a steeper learning curve. Some key adjustments you need to make when skiing in powder include narrowing your stance, using your legs to steer rather than your edges, and maintaining a faster speed to stay afloat.
If you’re going on a shorter trip, let’s say a week or less, we recommend skiing. You’ll likely learn skiing quicker, and thus be able to enjoy more of the mountain during the few days you’re at the resort. If you’re moving to a mountainous area or simply exploring your local ski hill for the first time, then choose whichever sport appeals to you and aligns best with your abilities. Still torn? Be an overachiever and try both!