Should I ski or snowboard?

Ultimate Outdoors4 min readActivities

There are no other two sports where the pros and cons are so hotly contested as skiing and snowboarding. What few enthusiasts would admit however is that their arguments have more to do with image than practicality. Fortunately, for the undecided winter athlete, age, dress sense, gender and mentality no longer govern your decision so, unless you have some specific aspiration, here are the simple truths of skiing and snowboarding to help you decide.

Who will you be skiing or snowboarding with?

Don’t naturally assume that if your friends or family practice one winter sport you’ll be best off joining them. Consider how your different skill levels and mindset will affect your ability to keep up. If your group isn’t that experienced or have a leisurely approach to their sport you’ll probably be fine choosing either discipline. If however they are fast or more experienced, and you are not especially ‘gung-ho’, you may want to opt for skiing as it’s easier to learn, quicker, and better for getting around the resort in general.

For those going away with a young family most opt to ski. For reasons we’ll come onto later looking after children from skis is much easier than from a snowboard.

How do learning to ski and learning to snowboard compare?

As we’ve already said most find skiing easier to pick up. Once beginner (snowplough) turns are mastered you can travel over a range of different terrain with relative ease. With snowboarding, despite the technique being arguably more straightforward, it does favour more confident approach. Turns require a degree of momentum and only the most self-assured will be linking turns by the end of day one.

The other thing to consider is general mobility around the mountain. Apart from walking to the slopes in your respective boots (or waddling in the case of skiers) snowboarder hands-down have the tougher time. Lift queues, narrow pistes (especially cat tracks) and lifts can all be tricky, especially in poorly laid out resorts. If you are adamant you want to snowboard choose a resort that doesn’t have too many flat areas or drag lifts (also called T-bars or button lifts) which beginner snowboarders can find especially challenging.

What about discomfort?

Yet again it’s the boots that can reduce skier comfort so take your time when choosing a pair in the hire shop. Conversely snowboard boots are possibly the most comfortable footwear ever made. When it comes to the aches and pains of actually learning, skiing again has the advantage. Falls in skiing are usually to the side and are eased by the ability to move your arms and legs. The only areas that can suffer are the knees if your skis happen to ‘go the wrong way’. As for snowboarding falls are more frequent with bums and knees bearing the brunt of the impacts. These days helmets should be worn by all however snowboarders should consider them essential.

What about progression?

With skiing, after learning to snowplough turn, you must then master parallel turns. This new technique is different enough for many to require extra tuition, especially if they don’t want to pick-up bad habits. As for snowboarding it’s simply the case of refining your existing technique which in itself is more natural and fluid than that of skiing. In fact most people who have tried both would probably admit that snowboarding is more graceful and, dare I say it, more enjoyable once the knack is acquired. To counter this skiing is certainly faster and is a better way to cover long distances and varied terrain.

The other two big areas to progress to are the snow park and off-piste. Although anyone can ‘ride the park’ many of the techniques, like riding rails, grabs and ‘riding switch’ tend to favour snowboarders. Riding switch (travelling with the other end of your skis or board downhill) especially favours snowboarders as boards tend to be better equipped to do this where as skiers would need special ‘twin tipped’ skis.

When it comes to leaving the piste again it’s snowboarding that probably has the edge. Riding fresh powder on a snowboard simply serves to enhance the grace of riding and although the same can be said of skiing off-piste for many the sensation doesn’t quite compare. That said, in the same way as on piste, skiing off-piste still offers more control which is useful on narrow, tree covered, or steep terrain.

So which is it going to be?

These days many people in their 20’s and 30’s have a specific desire to try snowboarding. If you’re one of those and are reasonably fit and determined you should defiantly do it. If on the other hand you are less confident at sport and simply want to try a snow holiday you may well be better off on skis.

If you are still undecided leave your decision until you arrive and see what the snow conditions are like. Good conditions with soft fresh snow make snowboarding a lot easier and lessen the impact of any falls. If however conditions are thin and icy, skis will give you much better control and reduce the chance of a bad fall.

Ultimately ski and snowboarding holidays are pretty unique. No other sports combine fresh air, exercise and stunning scenery in quite the same way. If that’s not enough you can always go exploring off-piste or seek thrills in the snow park. There’s even après-ski if you are feeling more party than sporty. If you’ve read this far and are still sat on the ski snowboard fence you are clearly keen enough so just flip a coin and go, you won’t regret it. You can always head back to the hire shop mid holiday and switch.


Join the discussion