Deciding to go up onto the hill for the first time can be a daunting task. You are introduced to lots of new equipment and a brand new way of manipulating your body to make things happen. A common question people often have when they want to pursue snow sports for the first time is: should I learn to ski or snowboard?
The good news is, there is no wrong answer! Both options will have you sliding down snowy slopes feeling the wind in your hair in due time, and you’ll be having a lot of fun doing it!
However from a beginner's standpoint, skiing or snowboarding may make sense for one person over another, and there are lots of things to consider when venturing out for the first time.
Injuries are something we are striving to avoid as new winter sports participants, so we need to ask ourselves: do you want your feet attached or separate? On a snowboard, your feet are both attached to the board in a non-releasable binding.
Skis are just the opposite, you wear a stiff boot which attaches to bindings that have a release value (called a DIN) set to a number that corresponds to the amount of torque it takes for your boot to pop out.
For this reason, it might be a better idea for those worried about injury to start with skiing. The ability to come out of your skis is very nice when learning and will hopefully prevent any serious injuries. That being said, on a snowboard while your feet are attached together, and to the board, it mostly keeps your body in full alignment.
The bumps and bruises will likely happen on your butt, wrists and back. With your feet attached together, it is difficult to put twisting forces on your knees such as ones seen with skiing, and as a result snowboarding produces less lower leg injuries than skiing does.
As far as the basic motions of skiing and snowboarding, which makes more sense to one person over another simply depends on the person. Those familiar with skateboarding, surfing or other board sports will likely appreciate the movement associated with snowboarding. Those who feel awkward facing sideways all the time will likely appreciate facing straight down the hill whilst skiing.
The basic mechanics of both snowboarding and skiing involve using the metal edges on the sides of your skis or snowboard to carve through the snow to turn and slow yourself. That means that when turning on a snowboard if you are “heelside” your heels dig into the hill and you are facing down the hill, while going “toeside” means you are facing into or up the hill.
There is definitely a blindspot behind you that you need to be aware of while snowboarding, whereas skiing facing downhill allows you to see all of what is below you without moving your body to see downslope. A big point for snowboarding however comes with the use of poles. When first learning to ski it is usually recommended to forego poles, until you have the basic mechanics of skiing down. After all, most skiing happens from the hips down, and poles can be a confusing additional piece to throw in the mix.
Snowboarding in this regard is much simpler. You simply bend your knees and go sideways down the hill, pushing your back foot out in either direction to slow you down and turn. Skiing involves pushing your downhill foot out and turning your entire lower body to move across the slope which for first timers can be a bit daunting when you begin to gain more speed than you are used to.
Riding the Chairlift
Riding the lift is another consideration for the beginner snowsports enthusiast. It is not going to be a surprise after you ride the lift with a snowboard twice to realize that the whole process was made for skiers.
Skiers have the luxury of pushing themselves through the lift line with their poles, getting to the front and all they need to do is sit down on the chair and when they get to the top, they stand up again and float away. Sounds easy and simple right? That's because it is!
Snowboarders however will not find things all that simple. Once at the bottom of the hill, snowboarders need to take their back foot out of the binding and shuffle themselves sideways through the lift line. Once at the front they sit on the lift and usually need to have their free foot hold the weight of the board while on the chair. When at the top, snowboarders need to slide away with their front foot in and their back foot usually just resting on the slick board.
For beginners, dismounting the lift can be a difficult skill to master, as it is likely the only time you’ll slide around with just one foot in your board and can be difficult to control. Finally, you need to sit down or balance on your feet while you put your back foot in the binding before you can begin sliding down the hill. That being said, with a little practice, you can master this motion and make coming in and out of your bindings a very quick and fluid maneuver.
So which should I learn after all?
The lucky news is there really is no wrong answer! Both skiing and snowboarding are excellent ways to get outside, enjoy the snow and have fun! These points here hopefully give you something to think about when making your decision for the first time. But always remember you can try both, renting is easy and can give you a day or two to feel out each option and see which works better for you.
Remember, just because all of your friends or family do one doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the other. The most important thing is just getting out there, having fun, and being excited for the next time it snows!