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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Slopesport face-off: a guide to the pros and cons of skiing and snowboarding 

Richard Fan
Skiing and snowboarding are both very fun sports with very different styles. 

Should you visit Lake Tahoe over February break, you might choose to ski or snowboard, both of which are exhilarating winter sports. Despite numerous differences, one thing both groups seem to share in common is their condescension for the other sport. A common complaint I often hear is when a group of skiers are lamenting over a snowboarder sliding through a chute. However, you ultimately come to realize that both sports have their own merits and neither is an overall superior sport. 

Skiers glide down the mountains using ski poles for balance and lean side to side to make turns. On the other hand, snowboarders require a different skill set, relying on body twists and weight shifts to carve their turns. 

The two sports each have their merits, but ultimately, there are a few key differences based on research and my own experience — versatility in turns, comfort, safety and ease for beginners — that can help guide you to pursue one over the other. 

Skiers have more versatility in turns than their snowboarder counterparts 

As a result of the techniques intrinsic to snowboarding, snowboarders often take longer to make turns than skiers. Snowboarders change their edge by moving the upper body from front to back to transfer weight, which takes longer compared to skiers who keep a stacked stance and manipulate direction using their legs alone. The time spent transferring from the seat position (edging on your heels) to a forward-leaning one (edging on your toes) results in decreased agility. 

Among the varied terrain that can be found in resorts, skiers are generally able to navigate with more fluidity than snowboarders. Being able to shift weight on two different platforms allows for skiers to keep their center of gravity fairly stable when making turns on steeper terrain, whereas snowboarders have to make larger body adjustments to keep balance. 

The upper body and hip motions needed to make turns in snowboarding also make navigating moguls (bumpy slopes) more difficult. While skiers generally ski zipper-line (the cleanest route that follows a direct path down a field of moguls), snowboarders are unable to keep up with the rapid pace and have to resort to crossing horizontally over multiple bumps to make turns. As all ungroomed trails (trails that have not been  smoothed out by a snowcat) turn into moguls eventually, being capable of skiing a zipper-line can be incredibly fun.

Snowboarders generally experience better comfort  

Regardless of whether you are on or off the slopes, comfort is a necessity and crucial determining factor for numerous individuals. In my experience, ski boots cause the biggest issues, especially for less experienced skiers. Moving around in hard plastic buckets coated with a thin layer of fabric on the inside can be a nightmare, leaving skiers with blisters, bruises and skier’s toe (bleeding in the nail bed). Even for experienced skiers, a common saying is “it’s OK if it’s too tight, it’s supposed to hurt.” Thankfully, the pain diminishes as calluses develop. 

However, snowboard boots are built from softer material with more padding. The general consensus is that snowboard boots are much more comfortable to move around in than ski boots. 

The safety trade-off between skiers and snowboarders 

Similarly, safety is another point that must be considered. A study  conducted in 2012 by the American Journal of Sports Medicine confirmed that snowboarders fall a lot more often, with the most common injury being a sprained or broken wrist. On the other hand, although skiers fall less, the falls tend to be more severe, with the most common injury being a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament]) However, no matter which sport you end up choosing, it’s important to learn how to fall to protect yourself from these injuries. 

Snowboarding can also be more hazardous when crossing the slope. Snowboarders generally spend more time going across the hill, rather than following a narrow snaking path down the hill. Their wider radius turns set up potential collisions with skiers or snowboarders who have tunnel vision and are only looking downwards. 

It is also much harder to make sudden movements on snowboards. The edges are not only more dull, but having only one edge in contact with the snow can make sudden stops much more difficult, resulting in more frequent collisions. 

Skiing is a friendlier sport for beginners, but many derive more fun from intermediate snowboarding than skiing 

Skiing is, for most, much easier to learn than snowboarding, as the progression of techniques in skiing is more straight-forward. Beginners usually start by learning the pizza position (making a triangular snow-plow shape with your skis) and then slowly learn to put weight on the left and right legs. On the other hand, for snowboarders, mastering the basic concepts takes much longer and involves many falls. 

A general consensus I have found, and that many others believe, is that progressing past intermediate or beginner level skiing can be very difficult. As a result, the enjoyment of the sport begins to take a downward trend in contrast to snowboarding, which can be a lot more fun than skiing  after you become proficient with the basic techniques. 

My personal choice

In my experience, I prefer skiing over snowboarding because of the sensation of making rapid turns down a mogul field, as well as the stability. Ultimately, both sports have their own perks and your choice should be based on the level you wish to perform at and the factors — versatility, comfort, safety and difficulty level —  that you care about most.

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