There’s an old adage that skiing is easier to learn, but harder to master, whereas snowboarding is harder to learn, but easier to master. Everyone’s experience is different of course, but there’s definitely an element of truth to the statement.
Is snowboarding easier than skiing?
Unless you have a background in skate or surfboarding, most people will initially feel more comfortable keeping their feet separated and facing the direction of travel. While ski boots can definitely feel clunky, progress up the mountain should be pretty rapid once you’ve mastered the speed-reducing snowplough – or pizza shape – with your skis, and you’ll be linking turns with parallel skis – or French fries – in no time.
Many will get to this stage and be confident on blue and even red runs within a week of tuition on snow. The problem is that people often stop learning at this point and never reap the full potential of their metal edges. Our advice would be to keep up the lessons – even intermittently – to get you properly carving those turns.
Learning to snowboard
If you decide snowboarding looks cooler and more comfortable, you’ll enjoy the boots, but maybe not the bumps.
Having both feet strapped onto one board means that, to begin with, there’s a fair bit of falling on your bum and knees as you try to control the edge nearest your heel and inch your way down the slope.
Shifting your weight to go from zig-zags into more fluid, linked turns is a big single step and can take a weeks worth of lessons or more. Once you’re there though, the mountain really is your playground.
On hard-packed and icy slopes, two edges will always be better than one, but when the snow is soft you’ll hear snowboarders whooping their way down and gliding through deeper off-piste snow where skinnier skis struggle.
The practicalities of skiing vs snowboarding
Ski resorts, ski lessons, ski lifts – there’s a reason it’s the default term. These places and things were made for the sport that came first. As a result, snowboarders have to overcome a few specific challenges on the mountain.
Getting on drag and chairlifts means unstrapping the back foot, which then has to be clipped in again at the top of every run, not to mention a distinctly undignified dismount. Then there’s the cat tracks (access routes for grooming machines) and frequent flatter areas linking pistes, where you’ll likely find yourself unclipping fully and walking, unless you can persuade a skier mate to lend a pole and tow you.
Having said that, once off the mountain, snowboarders can saunter round town in their comfy footwear, carrying only one piece of kit, while skiers have to master the art of carrying two skis and poles in less flexible ski boots.
Skis and ski boots are also quite a bit more expensive than a snowboard and boots, but those costs shouldn’t be a worry during the time you’re learning – as good-quality ski hire is the norm in resort and costs about the same for skis or boards.
Is snowboarding safer than skiing? Or the other way around?
From a safety perspective, there’s not much in it these days – just different common injuries. Given the range of motion and potential for catching an edge on deeper or harder snow, twists and tears in the knee are the biggest risk for skiers. Snowboarders meanwhile, are more likely to break their wrists or collarbone if they fall forward, or tailbone if they go over backwards.
Don’t let this put you off though, as injuries are rare. Just try to follow the International Ski Federations rules of the slopes, wear a helmet and don’t feel pressured into doing anything outside your comfort zone.
Settled on what you want to learn? Then check out our top places to learn to ski in Europe.
For more endlessly engaging, high-quality ski and snowboard chat, check Crystal Ski Holidays out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or contact us via phone or email if you have resort-specific questions.
Words by Peter Walker.