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The Ultimate Question – Skiing vs Snowboarding

The Ultimate Question – Skiing vs Snowboarding

Alwin Bakker   December 18 2017  
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The Ultimate Question – Skiing vs Snowboarding
What is harder, skiing or snowboarding? I get this question multiple times a week when I’m teaching adults. Most of the time the people asking these questions are biased by their friends who they’ve come with. In many cases, those friends are on the opposite type of gear and have never tried the other one.

It’s the classical birthday party talk where somebody does ski / ride already for so many years is considered “knowledgeable”. In many cases there’s no other background than a holiday and they’ve tried the opposite sport by the most for half an our night riding, tired and without help. The people listening to these “experts” are completely inexperienced. This is how many beliefs are originated, without a solid foundation. Time to look in the facts and physics.

Let’s face it, the majority of people out there on the slopes never make it past the intermediate level of skiing or riding. Since any form of a kamikaze style has nothing to do with a “skill” or being in control. So we’ll be sticking to riding groomed beginner and intermediate runs, and the process of acquiring the skills to be able to do that safely.

Starting at the very beginning, balancing on the gear just on a flat surface without moving. This is where snowboarders struggle already a lot more than skiers, the fact that on a snowboard you can’t “take a step” in order to save yourself when you loose your balance and you have to balance on one edge of the board instead of two edges makes it considerably harder to stand on a snowboard than on skis. Also, in case skiers loose their balance beyond the point where their feet can save them from falling over, they’ve got poles as a last resort. A snowboarder has nothing to hold on to in these situations.

As we start moving, there’s mainly a difference on the cognitive side of things. The fact that “forward” on a snowboard isn’t in the direction as your toes are pointing, but relates to what is sideways to your body. This 90 degree chance in perspective confuses many people, which can cause many far going problems later on. 

These problems carry on when it comes to the movement pattern of “turning”. An incredible number of people will describe the “pendulum”* form on one single edge as “turning”, the fact that this is a “change in direction” is completely correct, but as they change direction they also change the leading side of their board and body. A “turn” is defined as “an act of moving in a circular direction”, so their thoughts of a turn are clearly wrong. The fact that the toe-edge goes in the opposite direction to the heel-edge and a turn changes edges in order to change direction while maintaining the leading side of board and body is hard to get for many.

When we compare the options both skis and snowboard have while making those turns is also significant, skis will always have the ability to break and slow down, in every part of the turn they make. Skiers can always make a snowplough, the classical pizza or wedge shape. Snowboarders though, can only break with their board across the hill, which happens only at the end of the turn, which makes them way more limited. Snowboarders can’t hold back their acceleration through the fallline. Good snowboarders that do anticipate won’t have this issue, they can think ahead, but that’s a few classes more advanced than what we’re talking about.

But if you aren’t convinced that skiing is way easier than snowboarding, let’s have a look from a slightly different perspective. How young are the kids performing the turns as described above on a somehow regular basis? On skis there are way more 4 year old kids performing this in full control, than there are 8 year old kids doing this on snowboard.. The differences in physical and cognitive development and their level of coordination between a 4yo and an 8yo are or course beyond dispute..

- Alwin -

*) The pendulum is also called “falling leaf” or “floating leaf”, imagine here a leaf falling down from a tree.
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