Skiing vs. Snowboarding: What Should a Beginner Do?

If you're thinking about taking your first trip to a ski resort, you've probably asked yourself the big question:

Should I try skiing or snowboarding?

While there's no clear-cut answer, there are many different factors to take into consideration. In this article, we'll discuss the learning process for each sport and the pros and cons that all beginners have to face.

Which One is Easier to Learn?

Learning to Ski

If you're a complete beginner and have never ice skated or done anything on a board, skiing is going to be the easier choice. As per the common wisdom, skiing is easier to learn and harder to master.

If you think about it, the way someone stands when they're skiing is much more natural than if they are snowboarding. You're facing forward in the direction that you want to go and moving in said direction.

Additionally, novice skiers benefit from one simple technique that can get them through their first days on easy trails: The Pizza, also known as the Snow Plow.

The pizza is a technique is where the skier positions their legs and heels outward and points the tips of their skis in towards one another without crossing them. This balances the skis on their inside edges and thus plows the snow and slows the user down

For beginner skiers, the basic way to turn also begins from the snow plow position. All one needs to do is re-position their body slightly, placing more of your weight on one of the wedged skis. This will turn the skier in either direction, allowing them to move freely and control their speed.

Watch the video below for a visual demonstration:

It's not uncommon that skiers will get a good grasp of the wedge turning and stopping within the first few hours. I highly recommend taking lessons, even if you think it looks easy in the video. A qualified instructor who sees your technique in person can ensure that you're not missing any details and that you say safe.

However, some skiers will find it hard to transition from the beginner to the intermediate levels. During this process, skiers need to learn to keep their ski with their skis parallel, moving them with a greater level of synchronization, as opposed to relying on the wedge. Many people find this step up to parallel skiing quite difficult, which is why it's often cast as harder to master.

Learning to Snowboard

Learning snowboarding comes with the opposite set of problems. Snowboarders stand with their side facing the direction they're going, and many people find this unnatural. 

Snowboarding also doesn't come with the advantage of having an easy technique to rely on like the wedge. Instead, snowboarders have to learn to control their speed and also turn and ride on both edges of the board.

There are lots of small balancing mistakes that beginners make while learning to do this. When a mistake is made, it's quite easy for the novice boarder to fall either forwards or backwards.

This video is an excellent representation of everything that snowboarders will have to gain proficiency at before even doing the easier trails.

Once the new boarder gets good at these techniques, they generally have an easier time building on them than novice skiers. While skiers need to worry about adopting a whole technique -- going from wedges to parallel -- snowboarders can get better at riding their edges and mastering their beginner phase techniques.

There's no doubt that going from novice to advanced at snowboarding is also extremely difficult. This is what a majority of people will experience if they start out fresh.

Does Ice Skating Help with Skiing?

As someone who played ice hockey before they started skiing, I can say that the answer is an unequivocal yes. Ice skaters generally have a good sense of what it's like to use their inside and outside edges, even if it's their first time strapping on skis. Learning to ice skate and learning to ski generally follow a pretty similar process, by learning to use the wedging techniques first, followed by using both skates in unison to ride the inside and outside edges.

Because of being component on their edges, most ice skaters can start parallel skiing on their first day. I was personally able to handle smaller black diamonds my first time out with a high level of confidence. 

Ice skaters will also have an easier time propelling themselves forward on a flat terrain with skis. Although beginners will rely solely on their poles, ice skaters don't have a hard time turning both skis outward and using their glutes to push off the inside edges.

Does Skateboarding Help with Snowboarding?

Skateboarding will help with learning to snowboard, but not as much right away. The main advantage that skateboarders have when they first strap on a snowboard is balance. But unfortunately, skateboarding won't help that much when it comes to learning to use both edges of the snowboard. 

Once the rider becomes better at using their edges, the balance and weight distribution they've mastered through skateboarding start to kick in more. 

Because both sports come with a steep learning curve, there's no doubt that skateboarders won't have as much of an issue with recovering from a fall. This could be a huge advantage for some, especially in the beginning.

If you're decent at skateboarding or another board sport, then learning snowboarding over skiing is probably your best bet.

Common Issues Beginners Face

Aside from the basics of learning, there are other problems for beginners that are worth discussing. Both skiing and snowboarding are going to have them; it's just a matter of "picking your poison." 

Aside from the cost issue, the rest of these get far better over time. As you can expect, they're not going to be a bigger deal for each sport. They're merely common obstacles for beginners.

Cost of Equipment   

It won't matter so much if you're renting, but if you decide you really like either sport, you'll probably want to get your own gear. An entire set of ski gear on average is much more expensive than snowboarding gear. We're not just talking skis and boards here; don't forget you'll need boots (preferably custom fitted), poles, and bindings. 

For all this stuff, the skier usually pays around $400-$600 more. 

Need a few tricks to save?

Also Read: Easy Ways to Save On Your Ski Trip

Carrying Your Equipment

One advantage of snowboarding is that you only have two things to keep track of: your boots and your board. With skis, you have two poles and a set of two skis.

When carrying a board, all you really need to do is pick it up and carry it. The boots are also much easier to walk in, but we'll touch on that next.

Carrying skis can be downright awkward, even for the more experienced. Sure, they can rest on one another allowing you to use one arm, but they're still long and clunky. Moving through a crowd of people with skis and ski poles can sometimes be a pain.

Walking Around

Snowboard boots, while they aren't as comfortable as normal shoes, are far easier to walk in than ski boots. They tend to be less tight around the ankles than ski boots and a bit softer. As such, they're easier to get around in -- they kind of just feel like a heavy boot.

Ski boots can sometimes feel like you're walking with bricks on your feet -- especially when you're not used to it. This can make trips from the parking lot to the mountain extremely uncomfortable.

Losing Skis on the Slopes

If you take a nasty fall on skis, your skis can un-click and go flying every which way. If you're on your own and they've gone in two different directions, they can be very difficult to retrieve, especially if you've got to walk in steep and rocky areas in your ski boots.

For snowboarders, this is much less common. Beginner snowboarders usually fall to the front or to the back, and the board will most likely stay attached. Plus, it's easier for novice boarders to fall with a bit more control. 

When new skiers fall, their skis usually end up moving in different directions, making for a much more haphazard experience.

Dealing with Flat Spots

When a snowboarder hits a flat spot on a mountain, they're left with a choice:

  • Jump with both feet strapped in and gain some momentum
  • Unstrap one leg from the board and use it to push

While experienced snowboarders are pretty good at this, it can be difficult for people while they're learning. Moving on flat areas generally just goes against the nature of the sport... 

...which is why you never see cross country snowboarding.

Skiers, on the other hand, don't have this issue. If you're uncomfortable "skating" with your skis, it's super easy to dig both poles in and push forward. No need to take the skis off.

Getting On and Off the Lifts

Once skiers are locked into their skis, they're free to go on the lifts and get off easily. There's no need to adjust anything; you simply sit down and ride off. 

Snowboarders on the other hand, need to unstrap one of their boots from the bindings to properly get on the lift. As the run ends and the ground becomes flat, it would be really difficult for a boarder to jump his or her way over to the chair -- which is where unstrapping comes in.

If you've unstrapped before you got on the lift, this means you need to strap back up at the top. Both of these acts create a slightly less fluid experience for beginner snowboarders who are still mastering the process.

Safety of Each Sport

Safety & Injury Statistics

If you're an adult getting out there for your first time, you might be wondering which of the two options is safer. Much like any sport or anything you do in life, nothing is 100% safe. 

Your personal safety is going to be largely dependent on yourself and those around you.

That being said, let's look at some of the stats that exist on the subject:

Skiers are far less likely to get injured, but ski accidents are likely to be more serious and result in death. Snowboarders are 50-70% more likely to get injured, but there's a 33% lesser chance that said injuries would be fatal.

This probably has to do with the fact that skiers tend to fall less, especially in the beginning. It's also far easier for a skier to pick up more speed than they can handle and end up crashing into immobile objects such as trees or poles.

Each sport runs the risk of injuring different body parts:

  • Skiers are more likely to get their thumbs, legs, and/or knees injured.
  • Snowboarders are more likely to injure their shoulders, wrists, and/or ankles.

See Also: Vermont Ski Resort Study & White Lines Info Breakdown

The Vermont Ski Resort study (linked above) also indicated that young and inexperienced female snowboarders were the most likely to sustain such injuries. 21.8% of the injuries they studied were said to have occurred in the terrain park.

Which One Is Worse for the Knees?

When skiers get injured, they're much more likely to injure the ligaments in their knees.

Taken from the 18-season long study linked above: 

"ACL injuries composed 1.7% of all snowboard injuries and 17.2% of skiing injuries."
Skiers were also more likely to injure their LCL or MCL, or fracture their tibia.

This is likely because skiing involves much more twisting and turning of the knees. It's much easier for a skier's knee to turn one way and their entire body to turn the other, especially during a tough fall. 

That being said, common sense would tell you that skiing poses more of a threat to someone with a bad knee. But again, neither is 100% safe.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which One is Faster?

Fundamentally speaking, the physics of skiing allow it to be a faster sport than snowboarding at the highest levels. World class skiers go faster than world class snowboarders and hit longer jumps. But for beginners, this isn't going to matter so much. If a beginner in either sport properly paces themselves and doesn't take on more difficult trails than they can handle, going too fast shouldn't be an issue. 

On the other hand, it is much easier for the beginning skier to pick up speed if not careful. It doesn't take nearly as much balance on two skis to face forward and go straight down the mountain without any sense of control. The novice snowboarder is likely to fall long before picking up much speed.

Which One Burns More Calories?

The amount of calories burned for either skiing or snowboarding is going to be highly dependent on how hard the person is working. Either one can burn around 300-600 calories per hour. That being said, as the intermediate levels of each sports are approached, it is easy to get too comfortable and just coast down mountain. For the person adept at balancing, this barely activates any muscle fibers.

If burning calories is your goal, put effort into working the edges of the board or skis and activating the large muscle groups.

Which One is More Fun?

Whether skiing or snowboarding is more fun is obviously going to be subjective, but here's a piece of insight: There was a small study that concluded that skiers have more fun, but the study design seemed somewhat questionable.

The amount of fun you're going to have with either sport is going to be a balance of how much you're challenging yourself and how competent you are.

For example, I am far better at skiing, so I find it funner most of the time, but skiing at a really small ski resort with no challenging trails is just plain boring for me. If I found myself at one of these places, I would probably snowboard just because I would have more fun learning new things and challenging myself.

No matter which one you pick, you'll have the most fun doing trails that aren't too easy or too hard.

Wrapping Up

With all the points we've touched on, it's pretty clear why skiing is easier to learn for beginners. It's also easy to see why snowboarders have an easier time gaining an intermediate level of proficiency once they get the basics down.

While I don't think safety statistics should be a deciding factor, they might come into play for some people, especially if they have bad knees.

No matter which sport you pick, just remember that the juice is worth the squeeze. Learning either of them is going to be difficult at first, but once you gain some confidence, you'll be making some of the funnest memories of your life.

PS: Have you thought about how you're going to keep warm when you're out there in the cold? Check out my Guide to Staying Warm While Skiing for Cheap to learn more.

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