Skiing vs Snowboarding

Skiing vs Snowboarding: The Ultimate Comparison Guide

Last Updated on March 24, 2021 by James

Skiing vs snowboarding is arguably the most hotly contested topic in winter sports. Both sports have participants who are willing to vigorously defend the superiority of their chosen discipline, with only a few outliers standing in the middle.

Although this rivalry has somewhat calmed in recent years, it’s still a topic that deserves a thorough investigation. If you’re a beginner wondering which option to choose, or a veteran wondering whether to experiment, getting honest information in essential.

This ultimate guide is here to outline the key differences between using one plank or two. We assess the key aspects of each sport and answer the most common questions everyone wants to ask.

Skiing vs Snowboarding
Skiing vs Snowboarding Can Divide Opinion

Skiing vs Snowboarding: A Brief History

Skiing

Skiing is thought to have dated back to the last ice age, with cave paintings suggesting that skis were used as a mode of transportation. However, the most reliable evidence we have dates back to 6000 BC, where fragments of ski-like objects have been discovered in northern Russia.

Although skiing had been around for many years, it didn’t become a popular recreational activity until the mid 1800s. Since then, it has continued to grow as a sport, both in terms of technology and participation.

Vintage Skiing Picture
Skiing Has A Long History

Snowboarding

The invention of snowboarding can be a contentious topic, with many enthusiasts laying claim to being the first rider. However, the most agreed upon creation of modern snowboarding happened in 1965, when engineer Sherman Poppen invented the ‘Snurfer’.

Snowboarding continued to gain traction during the 1970s and 1980s, with a host of companies competing to create the perfect snowboard. During the 1990s and early 2000s, snowboarding continued to gain acceptance with the wider snowsports community; eventually becoming the sport we know and love today.

Snowboarder
Snowboarding Gained Popularity In Recent Decades

Skiing vs Snowboarding Popularity Statistics

Skiing has long held the historical popularity advantage, with its invention being prior to the rise of snowboarding. However, a large uptake of snowboarding in recent decades has seen the playing field somewhat more levelled today. 

In 2017, a study showed that there were 7.56million snowboarding participants across the USA. This is just over half the amount of skiers, with 14.94 million skiing participants in the same year.

Although official statistics are sparse, these figures alone show the exponential growth that snowboarding has had since gaining popularity. Although this has slowed during the last decade, the popularity of the sport has come a long way since its relatively recent invention.

Skiing vs Snowboarding Popularity Statistics

Is Skiing Or Snowboarding Easier?

This is a classic question that deserves a classic answer.

Skiing is easier to learn, but harder to master. Snowboarding is harder to learn, but easier to master. Share on X

This is a common response, but it is certainly valid. In order to really assess the truth behind this thought, we will look at how snowsports participants generally progress at different levels.

Skier and snowboarders
Snowboarding vs Skiing, Which Is Easier?

Skiing vs Snowboarding For Beginners

The first few days on snow almost always see a faster progression by skiers. Although this is not true in every case, it is a common theme you will see on beginner slopes.

Skiing is often much more intuitive for the beginner. With your legs kept separate, it allows you to react with natural coordination in order to maintain your balance.

In addition, skiing allows you to maintain a forward facing stance. This is huge for your progression, with your peripheral vision giving you a natural and confidence boosting feeling

Snowboarding can be more challenging for the beginner. With your legs strapped into the board, you cannot rely on your instinctive reactions to rescue you if you make a mistake; inevitably leading to more falls.

Snowboarding also adopts a sideways stance. This restricts your vision to only 50% of the slope, which often takes an adjustment period that can slow your progress.

Skiing vs Snowboarding For Intermediate/Advanced

Once the basics are mastered, then it’s common to see a snowboarder’s progression accelerate beyond the achievements of the skier.

Once the basic snowboarding turn technique is achieved, the emphasis will be on improving speed and gradient. When progressing onto more challenging terrain, the basic technique remains largely the same – allowing for a fast rate of progress.

In fact, many learners find that snowboarding gets easier when speed is increased. Just like riding a bike, speed can often bring about an improvement in balance that can make the sport more straightforward.

Skiing becomes more challenging after your initial experiences. Although two separated feet can improve your first experiences, the difficulty involved with coordinating both skis effectively becomes a challenge.

Adding to this, the basic ‘snow plough’ technique learned initially will now need to be adapted towards a ‘parallel’ technique. This often requires many hours of practice and progression, which can make for a challenging experience.

Snowboarder
Once You’ve Learned The Snowboarding Basics, You Will Progress Quickly

Skiing vs Snowboarding Powder

When it comes to powder, the common consensus is that snowboarding holds the upper hand. Snowboards have a larger surface than skis, allowing them to float on deep snow.

Traditionally, skis have been long and narrow. Although this shape is optimal for carrying speed on groomed slopes, they can prove to be hard work when heading off-piste.

The development of extra-wide ‘powder skis’ has helped to bridge the gap for skiers. It has allowed them to improve powder performance and somewhat mimic the weightless feeling that’s achieved on a board.

However, off-piste continues to a domain that’s designed for snowboarders. The smooth feeling of long sweeping turns down a powder-face is hard to replicate on anything other than a snowboard.

Snwoboarding vs Skiing on powder
Snowboards Are Great On Powder Days

Is Skiing Or Snowboarding Faster?

When it comes to speed, skiing is generally considered to hold the advantage. A number of possible factors contribute to this conclusion, but lets first look at a solid statistic.

The highest speed ever recorded on a snowboard is 126mph (203km/h). However, the highest speed on skis is recorded as 157mph (254km/h).

There are a number of theories offering a reason why skiing is faster than snowboarding. Some point out the drag reduction of a ski tuck position is superior to the one you can achieve on a snowboard.

Equipment can also make a big difference to speed, with the extra length skis leading to your weight being spread over a larger surface area. This not only leads to increased speed, but also improved stability.

These facts clearly point to what is possible in a skiing vs snowboarding race. However the truth of daily mountain life is often down to individual skill, rather than equipment.

Don’t expect to put on a pair of skis and be faster than every snowboarder on the mountain. Share on X
Skier skiing fast
The Ski Tuck Position Can Produce Serious Speed (Image: Jon Wick CC BY 2.0)

Skiing vs Snowboarding Tricks

When it comes to tricks, snowboarding has long been thought of as the leader. Snowboarding was cultivated away from the mainstream snowsports industry, becoming synonymous with snowparks.

The rise in popularity of the ‘X Games’ and snowboarding’s induction into the ‘Winter Olympics’ caught the imagination of a generation. Following this, snowboarding was viewed as the go-to snowpark sport for many years.

However, the same events that famed snowboarding tricks have also caught the eye of skiers in recent years. Increased technical ability and the sheer height that can be achieved by skiers has lead to skiing being viewed as a new favourite amongst many freestyle enthusiasts.

Although freestyle skiing is on the rise, it’s still common to see snowparks across the world being enjoyed by a high percentage of snowboarders. The free and lightweight feel that you get on a board lends itself to the maverick and creative vibe that makes freestyle special.

Snowboarding Trick
Big Air Competitions Have Had A Big Impact On Snowboarding

Is Skiing Or Snowboarding Safer?

This is another age-old question, where both parties have both put forward their arguments over the years. However, this question was (almost) definitively answered thanks to 40 years of research from Jasper Shealy from Rochester Institute of Technology.

The study concluded that snowboarders were 50%-70% more likely to get injured than skiers. However, snowboarders were also around a third less likely to get killed on the slopes.

Professor Shealy advised that the predominant cause of death amongst skiers was “due to collisions with fixed objects, where somebody is going at a relatively high speed”.

Ski Fall
Skiers Have Less Crashes, But They Can Be More Serious

The root cause of every accident has not been provided with these figures. However, there are some general schools of thought as to why this result has been reached.

  • Since the advancement of ski equipment safety, skis will come off in the event of an accident. This has led to a huge reduction in ski injuries, which is evident in the statistics.
  • Sealy also provided a hypothesis for the reduced number of snowboarder deaths; “when a snowboarder falls, the edge of the snowboard drags along the ground and acts like a brake”. However, it’s possible that snowboarders suffer more injuries due to often awkward looking ‘face-plant’ falls and increased focus around jumps, tricks and manoeuvres.

Although this data gives us some idea of the potential risks, the reality is that skiing or snowboarding is only as safe as the participant. As long as you stick to slopes that are within your ability level, you will greatly reduce your chances of suffering any snowsports injury.

Snowboarding Fall
Although You’re More Likely To Get Injured Snowboarding, It’s Less Likely To Be Fatal

Skiing vs Snowboarding Pros and Cons

Advantages of Skiing

  • Fast progression through the basics.
  • Easier to navigate flat terrain.
  • Easier to use ski lifts.
  • Reduced chance of injury.
  • Forward facing stance means better vision.
  • Skiers can achieve faster speeds than snowboarders.
  • Natural standing position is more practical.
  • Easier to negotiate moguls.

Disadvantages of Skiing

  • Difficult to master advanced technique.
  • Equipment can be clunky and uncomfortable.
  • Ski gear is often more expensive than snowboard gear.
  • Greater risk of fatal injury.
  • Skis often need more tuning and maintenance.
  • Less naturally suited to freestyle.
  • More taxing on your knees.
Skier Walking
Ski Equipment Can Be Cumbersome

Advantages of Snowboarding

  • Easier to master advanced technique.
  • Improved performance in powder snow.
  • Snowboard boots are comfortable.
  • Only one board to carry.
  • Lowered risk of fatal injury.
  • More forgiving fore/aft balance.
  • Easier to stand up after a fall.
  • Easier to ride switch (backwards).

Disadvantages of Snowboarding

  • Difficult to learn the basics.
  • Sideways stance can feel unnatural.
  • Vision limited to 50% of the slope.
  • Difficult to recover once you start falling.
  • Balance can be difficult at low speeds.
  • Ski lifts can be difficult to use.
  • Crossing flat ground can be a challenge.
Snowboarders On A Ski Lift
Snowboarding Can Make Lifts Challenging

Final Verdict

Comparing skiing vs snowboarding is a highly subjective task. Each discipline has its pros and cons, so choosing one or the other depends on the individual.

Although skiing or snowboarding was a contentious subject in previous decades, I believe they have finally learned to coexist. Both sports are fantastic in their own way, with most participants recognising the benefits of each discipline.

Many mountain sports enthusiasts are now expanding their skills and becoming competent in both skiing and snowboarding. This allows them to get the best of both worlds and enjoy the mountain to its full potential.

If you are new to snowsports, this guide is designed to give you an idea of what to expect on the slopes. If you are a seasoned mountain visitor, then we are sure you are judging your opinion against ours.


What are your thoughts on the skiing vs snowboarding debate? What’s your pros and cons list for each discipline? Leave a comment and let us know!

4 thoughts on “Skiing vs Snowboarding: The Ultimate Comparison Guide”

  1. I would say that many of your arguments would be significantly more accurate by simply replacing the word “advanced” with “intermediate.” An example if this is confusion is found in your stating that fire/aft forgiveness is better on a snowboard, but that moguls are more easily navigated on skis. If you know the advanced technique of riding moguls on a snowboard, they are not hard to navigate, however learning the advanced techniques for managing that terrain is very challenging and time consuming. And point is that, as the snowboarders body always rotating, they have actually a greater view of traffic coming toward them as well as in front of them. But, for beginners, the balance involved in being able to do this is not yet reliable enough. In skiing, as people progress, their vision focuses continually into the next turn, taking them away from what is immediately in front of them resulting in frequent near misses. Also, the difficulty in learning to ski arises when you have to move away from the wedges. by not recognizing some ability level based differences, this article makes snowboarding out to be a nightmare deathwish compared to skiing. Just my two cents.

    1. Thanks for your input Hames! Your view definitely puts forward some value. This is a comparison that is not always as straight forward as some believe, and an exchange of ideas always brings about growth and understanding. P.s. we certainly believe that both sports can be a nightmare deathwish if you use poor technique!

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