Since snowboarding entered the scene a few decades back, snow aficionados have had to contend with a major question: Are you a skier or a snowboarder? Any mountain town resident will tell you that your answer says a lot about you (although what they think it means depends, of course, on whether they’re a skier or a boarder themselves).
The debate’s been raging for decades, and every few years, one sport or the other becomes more popular—and then, a handful of seasons later, things shift again. Like any long-term discourse, there’s no obvious or “correct” answer; there’s a lot more nuance to the issue. Ready to make the big decision for yourself? Here’s the breakdown of pros and cons.
This probably won’t be the deciding factor. When it comes to cost, skiing and snowboarding are relatively evenly split. Lift tickets are the same price whether you’re on two planks or one, and transport to and from the mountain is the same regardless of what equipment you have with you. Your outerwear can be interchangeable (of course, fashion and culture may dictate a wardrobe change, but that’s up to you). As far as the skis or board themselves, the cost—to buy or rent—isn’t significant enough to really influence your decision.
Ski boots have a reputation for being terribly uncomfortable, but they’ve come a long way since the early days when hard-sided ski boots were practically guaranteed to cut off circulation or leave blisters. These days, they are much comfier than their predecessors from the seasons of yore. Still, when it comes to all-day comfort on the mountain (and how easy it is to walk into the lodge and out to the parking lot), snowboard boots are unbeatable. They’re warm and cozy, and they can’t force your legs into an unnatural position—they’re basically Uggs with a purpose.
The first few days of picking up any new sport can be tough, but skiing and snowboarding are worlds apart in that regard. Skiing uses a lot of the natural movements you’re already familiar with—in other words, you’re used to moving both your legs independently, whereas having both feet strapped into the same board can feel intimidating at first. Most folks find that there’s a short honeymoon period with skiing where it feels like you’re learning (and improving) by huge measures in a short period of time.
Snowboarding, on the other hand, can take a bit more practice to initially get the hang of it, much like surfing or skateboarding, which require the use of some of the same muscle groups. After that initial learning curve, though, it’s much easier to become an intermediate or advanced snowboarder.
If you’re looking to make a long-term investment in snow sports, you could go either way; if you only have a week on the slopes, consider skiing, which you’ll likely feel more accomplished sooner.
It’s not just the downhills you have to consider: you have to get up to the top of the mountain, too. Lifts are a beautiful thing—after all, they make it possible to get in more runs with a lot less effort than hoofing it, but they often present a challenge for newcomers.
For skiers, negotiating lifts is pretty straightforward. You need to take your pole straps off and look over your shoulder to be ready for the chair, but aside from that, there’s not much guesswork.
For snowboarders, though, things can be tougher. You need to unstrap one binding each time you get ready to get onto the lift, which also means doing some hopping about in the lift line. Depending on how surefooted you are, hopping off the lift on a board with one foot unstrapped can be difficult to navigate the first few times until you become more comfortable on the board. Everyone falls, so don’t let this be the sole deciding factor against riding.
Bonus for skiers: those on two planks can get right to skiing downhill as soon as the chair hits the top of the slope, whereas snowboarders will have to strap back into their bindings, which for beginners often requires sitting down.
Keeping Track of Gear
Ever heard the expression “yard sale” on the mountain? Often used as a term of endearment, it refers to skiers and riders spreading gear all over the slope after crashing. Skiers have to contend with two skis (which you can pop off with the right amount of force at the correct angle), not to mention poles. Snowboarders, on the other hand, are essentially immune to the plight of the yard sale. Your board is firmly strapped on and can’t go flying off, and there are no poles to worry about. Boarding definitely keeps the “yard saling” to a minimum.
The Dreaded Catwalk
At most resorts, there’s a flat spot or run that everyone tries their hardest to avoid. It’s usually the run that brings skiers and riders around from one side of the mountain to the other and while flat may not sound too intimidating, it can be tough to negotiate.
For skiers, it’s a no-brainer: your feet are on two separate planks, so you can skate a bit and regain the momentum you’d otherwise lose when things flatten out. For boarders, on the other hand, it’s liable to bring your run to a complete standstill—literally. With no feet available to move you along, you’ll likely end up having to unstrap a foot (or accept a ride from a skiing friend) to get things going again.
The ‘It’ Factor
There’s no point in pretending coolness doesn’t matter, but fortunately for both skiers and snowboarders, there’s something to recommend either sport. When it was first introduced, snowboarding was the super-cool, punk-rock thing to do, while skiing was widely considered (by younger audiences, at least) to be for old fogeys. In the intervening decades, though, things have changed considerably. These days, skiing is making a comeback, and there are tons of heroes to admire both on planks and boards. In other words, if you want to be cool, you could go either way.
Try Them Both
Hmm, seems about even, doesn’t it? If you’re still having a hard time deciding to ski or ride, why not just try both? It may sound crazy, but renting gear makes this an affordable option. And you can take advantage of the expert fitters in the shop to pick their brains for tips and tricks before heading out on the slopes.
There are two ways you can go about this. First, you can rent skis for a day then rent a board for a day and give them both a fair amount of time trying them out. Or, you can rent skis in the morning and then swap them out for a board in the afternoon. Try them both in one day and see which one you like better—this choice also comes guaranteed with a good night’s sleep.
Overall, there’s no point in making a decision like this without any first-hand experience. Once you’ve picked a winner, rentals are a great way to try out different styles and brands to figure out what works best for you before you buy your own gear.
While proponents of both sports can bend your ear for hours talking about why their sport is best, it boils down to which you think you’d enjoy more. So go ahead and give them both a try—there’s no law that says you have to stick to just one. You’ll likely gravitate toward one or the other as you progress.