Over the past decade, I have grown to be quite good at snowboarding though I am by no means an expert as I have only progressed really in the last couple of years in the sport. Since then, being able to try out the various resorts around the world have helped me become better at snowboarding but I felt there was still more to exploring the mountains that I love. And thus I decided to take up skiing recently while I had the opportunity.
Now that I have tried both sports, what are my views from the perspective of trying out both sports?
For a start, let me tell you all the good things about snowboarding. The boots that snowboarders put on feels so natural to walk on just like a heavier version of a winter boot. That means walking around in your gear for apres, to the parking lots and up and down the mountain stairs are so easy. With one fixed board, snowboarding does make it easier to go on the uneven terrain as it absorbs the bumps better. And I think there are less chances of a major injury while snowboarding because falling down or having a mis-step means that it is rare for your legs to be detached from the snowboard. The chances of injury to the knee are less but not impossible. On the topic of the soft powder that both skiers and snowboarders pursue, I think it is far more fun to float on the snowboard than on skis. Snowboarding is a lot of fun when the right conditions hits and that feeling of ultimate freedom on the board as you hit fresh powder is incomparable.
Then when you talk about the gear, snowboards are generally cheaper than skis and it is easier for snowboarders to have one board for most mountain conditions (all mountain). Though this could also be due to the relatively nascent age of the sport. But all this multitude of factors means that snowboarders tends to be younger in age and thus have a sort of ‘cool’ factor associated with it.
However snowboarding does have its drawbacks, and one of it is that having more contact with the snow means it does go somewhat slower that skis. Skiers will always beat snowboarders of the same calibre down the mountain. And when it comes to flat terrain, snowboarders have to detach one of their bindings or do a hybrid of a crab-walk and a jump. On the mountains, I always try to avoid these flat terrain when snowboarding. Riding chairlifts are also a hassle since you have to detach the bindings in one of the foot and most beginner snowboarders tend to fall once reaching the top. And for the traditional resorts with T-bars, those are even more difficult to stay on all the way! That does limit the terrain for snowboarders and if you prefer to explore the whole mountain, it can pose a bit of a problem.
Having skied for several seasons now, I have grown to like skiing. The benefit is obviously overcoming all the drawbacks of snowboarding. On skis, there are more freedom of movement but I figure this can be a drawback of skiing as well (of which I will explain later). But it is just so much easier to explore all the terrain on a mountain with skis, since on the flat ground, there are poles to aid you and the natural body stance makes it easier to move around. Skiers also waste less energy when waiting for the chairlifts as there is no need to take the boots off the skis or put them back on at the top. That means whether it is a short run or a long run, I find myself enjoying more time on the snow.
Because skis have existed long before snowboards, it is the more accepted winter sport worldwide and there are a handful of ski resorts worldwide that remains closed to snowboarders but permit skiers, so if you enjoy the freedom to explore mountains, skiing is the way to go.
Skiing, however, is not perfect, because the boots are really my main complaint since walking on them makes you look like a robot, and those ski boots feels heavier. Then there are the strains on the knee when you fall, and this is partly due to the extra freedom of movement. Which means when you fall, chances are your feet will diverge leaving skiers in a somewhat awkward position. Skiing is also less forgiving to beginners as it is more difficult to get back up after falling, while any little bumps could really throw a mediocre skier off their balance. The technical finesse of the sport is more important in skiing, so it is a bit like golfing, where the athlete’s stance and motion defines the way they excel.
As a more established sport, skis and boots comes in more varieties and brands to choose from, though they are usually more expensive as well. A pair of skis can cost anywhere between $200-$1400 while a snowboard usually cost within $100-$700. When purchasing skis, bindings are usually included in the basic skis that most beginners will start off with, but bindings are always sold separately on snowboards. Higher end all mountain skis and touring skis would also have bindings sold separately so these are added costs in addition to the boots. Because of the hefty cost associated with both sport, it makes even more sense for people who are trying to learn these winter sports to try carefully what they like before they proceed to get their own gear.
In the end are both sports for everyone? Maybe not. But when one is better at one of them, the other is quite easy to pick up with the right instruction. I got a nice instructor through the Whistler Ski School over 3 days, and was able to perfect the ski moves myself. At the end of the 3rd day, I was actually able to ski from the peak of Whistler back to the mid-mountain so that was nice in itself. Thus for anyone new to winter sports, my suggestion is to try a first lesson on skis, and after probably 3 days of learning it and you still do not get it, try snowboarding instead, because skiing is easier to learn in my opinion, but more difficult to master. Thus if you can actually get skiing right, it becomes easier to navigate the mountains and then maybe proceed to snowboarding in the future if you want to switch. The reason I say this from a long time snowboarder is that I find skiing to be more suitable to the majority of the people due to the natural stance of the body. However skiing is more suitable when you are young, while I have seen older skiers moving to snowboards as they places less stress on the joints. Due to the relatively young age of the sport of snowboarding, you tend to see more youths on snowboards while in a ski resort. Skiers, however, remain the majority in most of the European Alps, while you would see more snowboarders in the Americas, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. This will in turn influence which winter sport you gravitate towards depending on the availability of instructors and gear.