There’s snow on the mountains, you have some cash and feel in the mood for a spot of snow sports. But which to choose – skiing or snowboarding?
Skiing and snowboarding are the two most popular snow sports. Both let you have some serious fun bombing down a mountain, or perhaps cruising at a leisurely rate.
It is very much a personal choice which is best for you, but here are a few things to consider that may help you decide.
Do I look cool?
Snowboarding is associated with the type of cool dudes you see doing a variety of board sports such as skateboarding or surfing. Baggy trousers and boots with the tongues hanging out.
In the last few years, snowboarding is being taken up by all sorts of people – guys and girls, young and old.
Some hardened skiers do look down on snowboarders, as they consider it not as stylish, and that snowboards tend to push the snow down the mountain and leave it all lumpy at the bottom of the piste. Skiers do tend to be able to travel with more finesse than boarders, but that is the nature of the sport. Snowboarding is more about tricks and carving.
Skiing has started to get more media coverage of tricks and stunts. The winter X Games have included ski cross and board cross, which is where several skiers or snowboarders race at the same time on a course of ramps and jumps, making it much more exciting to watch.
Looking cool is not just about the clothing and reputation. It also depends on your skill. There’s no point trying to look cool if you can’t stay upright.
The basics of snowboarding can be learned in a couple of days. Skiing takes longer as you use different techniques for different terrain and speed.
I ski and snowboard, but one is easier than the other in certain situations that you will encounter on the mountain. Narrow runs can be a bit challenging if you are not that skilled at controlling your board with the nose pointing down the hill. Steep narrow gulleys limit your ability to stop on a snowboard, whereas you can always snowplough on skis.
Chairlifts are designed for skiers. Basically, you ski to the red stop line and wait for the chairlift to arrive behind you. When the seat arrives and touches the back of your legs you just sit down, pull the safety bar down and off you go. All you need to do is to make sure you don’t smack the person next to you with your ski poles.
At the top, you stand up and push away from the seat. You then ski off. Easy.
Snowboarders have to cope with being sideways. You wait for the chair with your snowboard pointing forward. this means that you have to sit down sideways. Once you are on, you can sit round properly. Your snowboard dangles sideways and annoys the skiers next to you unless you rest it on the foot bar. This is not exactly comfortable for your ankle.
At the top, you reverse the process. The hard bit is standing up and riding off with your board flat (not on an edge). Get it wrong and you are on your face in front of the crowd that usually lurks at the top of the lift sorting themselves out for the run down the mountain.
After a couple of goes, it is fairly easy to do it on skis or snowboard. The fun bit comes from different chairlifts. Each one is different. Some have conveyor belts at the start so they don’t have to slow down the chairs for you to sit down. Some have steep run offs at the top, where everyone has to quickly get their balance and get out of the way
Once again, ski tows are designed for skiers. You stand and grab the hanging pole or T bar and use it to drag you up the hill (hopefully while you are standing up). When skiing, you have to concentrate on keeping your skis parallel. Not always easy on uneven snow.
Some ski tows are quite fast. The hanging poles are in a hopper and you grab the end one. By doing this, the top then moves and locks onto the rapidly moving cable and you get launched up the mountain at high speed. If you are not ready for this, you fall over, or get your manhood squashed. Watch other people do it first so you know what to expect.
For snowboarders, you have to stand sideways. It is best not to have your back foot in your binding, as if you fall over you are stuffed and in the way of everyone else coming up behind you. You look a right fool crawling away. At least with your back foot free, you can put it on the ground and steady yourself.
To get on you grab the tow pole and stick it between your legs whilst putting your back foot on your snowboard on the uphill side of the back binding (usually where your stomp pad is). It helps if you put your back arm out poining at the back of the snowboard to balance. This adjusts your weight towards the back of the snowboard to compensate for the sudden jolt as the tow pulls you away.
The fun doesn’t stop there. You have to keep your wits about you as some of the snow on the ski tows can be uneven. There may be lumps, bumps and holes or ruts. If the snow is patchy, you can even get stones or rocks sticking through. If you survive all that, then there is the final test of getting off the ski tow. MAke sure you don’t throw the towing pole or T bar away from you, as it can swing up and get tangled in the towing cable. This will stop the ski tow until an engineer comes to free it. This really messes up everyones’ time going up the ski tow.
Coping With the Varied Terrain
There is a varied amount of snowy terrain you will encounter when doing snowsports. Skiers and snowboarders cope with everything, but as a beginner, it helps to know what to expect..
When the temperature is lower, the piste will freeze overnight. In the morning, the runs can stay frozen for some time depending on the temperature, and whether they are in the sun or shade. I have found that it is easier to stay upright on a snowboard when going down icy runs, especially as they get steeper.
For a skier, You may have to side slip. This is similar to descending on your toe or heel edge on a snowboard. Skiers have two skis to keep parallel and at the right angle. Much easier on a snowboard.
Wide pistes are great for skiers and snowboarders alike. The beginners dream. You can practice long sweeping turns without the fear of going off an edge or drop.
Flat pistes and green runs are lovely for beginner skiers. For snowboarders, they can cause a few problems if they are really flat. The first problem is the lack of a slope. Snowboarders need a slope to move, or else they have to take their rear foot out of the binding and scoot. Skiers can just push themselves along with their ski poles, or move their skis in a skating motion.
The second problem flat slopes cause snowboarders is a lack of control. To get any form of speed, you are going to have to point in the direction you are going, with the board flat on the ground. Which is your back edge now? If you get it wrong and you catch an edge, you will suddenly find yourself face planting into the piste. Be prepared for the fall, or work out a technique that helps you to keep moving on an edge instead of the flat of the snowboard.
Narrow sections and gulleys
You are going to come across narrow bits on the mountain. No problem for a skier until they get a bit soft and mushy. Then you have to swoop bout in snowplough making sure you don’t get your skis tangled on big lumps of snow.
For a snowboarder, narrow sections can be a problem for beginners. If the slope is gentle, it is not to much bother. If it is steep, you have to be able to control and steer your board as you will be nose forward which means you will gain speed unless you can turn. Scary at first.
Gulleys and drops add to the fear factor. You don’t want to disappear off the edge. Gulleys are U shaped, which causes problems when you want to turn your board to slow yourself down. A bit of practice where there are no crowds is needed.
Injuries and Protection
As with all snowsports, there is a risk of injury. Skiing and snowboarding seems to have different injury risks. Skiers have two skis to control over all sorts of ground. The biggest risk to skiers is that of twisting a ski the wrong way and breaking a leg. Falling over with your skis going the wrong way is the main cause, and can happen even at slow speeds. The wrong skiing techniques also can lead to knees and ankle injuries. At higher speeds, impact injuries may also happen.
Snowboarders tend to get impact injuries. As your feet are both clamped to the same bit of wood, you don’t get the risk of one leg going in a different direction to the other. Instead, you are more likely to catch an edge and hit the deck fast and hard. Your reaction to this leads to what injuries you get, if any. The instinct is to put your hands out to stop the fall, which leads to breaking your wrists. Always wear wrist guards to reduce the chance of this happening. It doesn’t stop it, as a friend of mine broke her wrist guards in a fall and sprained her wrists. At least she didn’t break her wrists!
Also, you will often end up with your knees or backside hitting the floor. Wear knees pads. I also wear padded shorts with a coccyx protector to protect the base of my spine.
You can get spine protectors as well.
Helmets are a good investment. You only have one head. Look after it.
Winter Sports Insurance
Make sure you are insured! It can cost huge amounts (£20000) to get you off a mountain. Then there is the ambulance, hospital treatment, the plane home taking up three seats for your broken leg, and outpatient treatment. And if you drove there, how are you going to get your car back? So, make sure that you have adequate winter sports cover.
What do you prefer? To ski or snowboard?
So what have you decided? Talking to other snowsports enthusiasts, those who ski and then try snowboarding rarely go back to skiing. I haven’t yet found anyone who has started off snowboarding and then switched to skiing. As for me, I haven’t clocked up enough mountain time yet to decide. I prefer skiing when with other skiers, as I can keep up with them whereas I can’t on a snowboard yet. But I prefer the feeling of carving down a mountain, and casually going past skiers sitting on their backsides on icy slopes.
Made your mind up? Perhaps you want to try both and experience the differences between skiing and snowboarding for yourself.
Once you decide you will want some tips for choosing your first snow sports holiday.