Saturday, February 2, 2013

To Ski, or to Snowboard. That is the Question.

A lot of my friends in California didn't have the privilege to grow up with snow sports. When they discover that I did have that kind of childhood, one of the first questions they always ask is:

"Which is easier to do, skiing or snowboarding?"

As someone who grew up skiing and has since picked up snowboarding, I feel like the only real answer to this question is: Depends on who's learning.

Really, both sports have their fair share of challenges. They both use a varying set of leg muscles, a decent amount of core strength, and they both require good balance. Each have their own learning curves and they each have something unique to bring to the table. I find that people are generally more comfortable with one or the other, regardless of how long they've been doing either.

For example, I learned to ski when I was about 8 years old. My brother and I were both enrolled in two half-day ski lessons and by the end of the second lesson, I was peeling down blues while my brother grumbled down greens. (If you didn't know, slopes are rated for difficulty by colors and shapes: green circles for Beginner, blue squares for Intermediate, and black diamonds for advanced. Double black diamonds are Expert.) My brother switched to snowboarding shortly there after and took to it as quickly as I did to skiing.

It wasn't until last season when all my California friends were learning how to snowboard did I take any real interest in snowboarding myself. On most days I still would prefer to strap on my skis and blitz down a hill at lightspeed, but occasionally I can see the appeal of boarding.

Do you mind falling?
If the answer to that question is yes, then skiing is probably your sport. With skiing, each foot is attached to it's own ski and thus, can more readily be used for balance and maneuvering. A skier also has a pole in each hand, which can also help. Once a skier becomes proficient, minor accidental falls are uncommon. When falls do occur at more advanced levels, however, they're typically a bit more harsh than on a snowboard, and at least a bit more annoying. Skis are designed to pop-off the boot, and collecting them once you've fallen down the hill 10 yards can be frustrating.

On a snowboard, both feet are strapped to a single board, making balance and maneuvering a bit more difficult. Minor falls are more common, even for experts, and boarders quickly learn how to "roll" with the tumble to immediately get upright and keep moving. Boarders also find themselves sitting on the hill quiet a bit, either to strap in or out of their board, or just to take a rest. Upper body strength comes into play more with snowboarding, as getting off the slope after a rest with your feet strapped to a board isn't the most natural movement. Being able to sit comfortably on the hill is a nice perk of snowboarding, though, as a skier can't really get as comfortable of a position perched sideways on the slope.

Do you like to skateboard? Surf? Longboard? Go sideways very quickly down a mountain?
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, you might want to try snowboarding. This might seem obvious but one of the things that is the most uncomfortable for me when snowboarding is going down the hill sideways. Growing up, I much rather have sat on the skateboard than actually skateboard correctly when going down a hill. Being parallel with the slope is definitely something that I don't find natural, but if you do, snowboarding might be your sport.

If you're like me and you like to face the world head on, skiing might be more your speed.

Do you feel like you have better balance going right to left? Or front to back?
When you start to ski or snowboard, you weave your way across the hill, drawing wide S-curves. As your skill and comfort with either sport progress, you start to narrow your S until it barely looks like an S at all, and more like a wavy l. You control your turns by primarily shifting your weight to ride the edges of your given equipment. Which sport you choose depends which directions you're shifting.

With skiing, you control your turns by shifting your weight from right to left, to dig in either your right or left edges. The skis help you maintain your balance in the forward and backwards direction, allowing you to focus mostly on the left to right motions. You hold your edges by riding on either the right or left sides of your feet.

On a snowboard, your balance is reversed. You control your turns by leaning either forward or backwards, riding on either the balls or heels of feet. Your board helps with your right to left balance and you focus mostly on putting weight on your toe or heel edge.

I know that this is a lot of text and I've not given you a clear answer, but I hope I've helped give you an idea on the key differences of each sport. I genuinely feel that which is easier to learn depends entirely on the person doing the learning. Some people are more comfortable with skiing over snowboarding, and vice-versa. If you're really not sure and you've got the time, I'd suggest taking a half-day lesson in both and going from there.

Either way, just get out there and enjoy the snow.


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