To ski or not to ski. That is the question. (something about snowboarding too...)
December 12, 2006 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I've never gone skiing or snowboarding before, but I'm going on a co-worker outing in January to a ski resort for one day. I've decided to take beginner lessons in one - but which one? What would you recommend and why?

Personal anecdotes get you a gold star - and yes, I know it's subjective. I just want to know what is easiest to learn, and which one has a bigger payoff for an amateur. Thanks!
posted by evadery to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Observations of a 30 year skier: snowboarding has a steeper, longer learning curve, but a big payoff in fun. If you want to mix it up on day one, stick with skis. Take a 2 hour private lessson first thing in the morning, practice a bit on the bunny slopes, and hook up with some coworkers on the green slopes in the afternoon.
posted by jpmack at 11:43 AM on December 12, 2006

Skiing is easier to get to the point where you're "doing" something. By the end of the day with some luck you'll be getting down the slopes pretty well. (stopping is another matter). I was told if I got stuck to just point down the hill and go, and that worked for me. By the end of my first day skiing I was keeping up with some of my friends who were much more experienced

Snowboarding has a steeper learning curve. In one day if you're lucky you'll just be getting the hang of it.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:45 AM on December 12, 2006

Having done both for over a decade (started with skiing, switched to snowboarding, never looked back), I can say that the learning curve for snowboarding is steeper but much, much shorter than for skiing.

Snowboarding is simpler - no poles, one board, comfortable boots - and (to me at least) it feels more natural and fluid, once you get used to the whole standing-sideways thing. If you've surfed or skateboarded it's even easier.

I found I was still fine-tuning my skiing technique years after I started. There are just so many little things to perfect and remember. With snowboarding, you can get pretty decent in a few days (wear wrist guards and expect a sore butt), and within a week or two you can be tackling slopes that would have a taken years to attempt on skis.

Skiing used to be my favorite thing in the world, until I started snowboarding. There's absolutely nothing like carving deep, fresh powder on a snowboard. Nothing. It's orgasmic. Sometimes I find myself literally drooling, it's so fun.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:46 AM on December 12, 2006

Snowboard. Snowboard. Snowboard.

I started skiing at age 4 and at age 26 I switched to snowboarding. In the 8 years since, I am a FAR FAR FAR better snowboarder than I ever was a skiier. I can get down anything (moguls, ice, powder, steep, trees) where I used to only be able to do the groomers. And I just love it. It's not a little punk-ass sport anymore, either-which is nice.
So here's my list why:

1. It's easier to learn (after the first 2 days of absolute pain).
2. You get good fast!
3. It's a lot more forgiving of odd terrain and conditions. (I couldn't do powder to save my life on skies but the more the better on a board.)
4. It's just more FUN. It's more free feeling. It's like a smooth ride of just crusing down the slopes. Jumps are easier. everything is smooth and easier once you get the hang of it.
5. I NEVER get cold while I'm boarding where I used to freeze when I skiied. Don't know why this is.
6. Lot less equipment to carry around.
7. More comfortable boots.
8. Falling really doesn't hurt as much with skies. You usually go on your back or on your knees or just roll and get back up. (Except in the beginning when you're learning-when you fall on your back when you catch an edge and it whaps your head into the ground. That hurts. But that hasn't happened to me in years.)

YOU MUST MUST MUST wear a helmet. ABSOLUTELY. Especially when you're learning. Take my word for it.

The downsides;
1. The first 2 days of learning are PAINFUL. But within a few days you can do the intermediate slopes.
2. Flat parts of mountains SUCK. No two ways about it. With skies you can use your poles and walk with your skies.
3. Your gear, especially your pants and gloves must be VERY waterproof and your jacket go as far over the top of your pants as possible.
4. Getting the board on the one foot before each ride kind of sucks. I finally got snap-in bindings which ROCK and are only getting better.
posted by aacheson at 11:46 AM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you only have ONE DAY, JUST SKI. Snowboarding requires a commitment. If you have more than one day and plan to make this a hobby, well snowboarding is much cooler and more fun. But seriously, for a single day - skiing.
posted by infinityjinx at 11:49 AM on December 12, 2006

Sorry...#8-Falling doesn't hurt as much as it does on skies.

I agree with's really like nothing in the world. Orgasmic sometimes, honestly. I will NEVER ski again.
posted by aacheson at 11:49 AM on December 12, 2006

To advance from complete beginner to advanced intermediate can be about 60 days of skiing. That same transition takes about 10 on a snowboard. However, I have a theory all the pain and falling from those 60 days of skiing get compacted into the first 3 days of snowboarding.

Typically your first day skiing is pretty boring, it's more awkward than anything else. Your first day of snowboarding is often more full of surprise falls. Snowboarders often seem to have a breakthrough day on about the third day of snowboard. The person will 'click' and figure it out, and will be ready to cheat their way down most slopes. Skiers tend to sneak up on the technique, often taking quite a bit longer as their technique gets closer and closer to ideal.

I think the main question here is whether you think you will ever ski/snowboard again, and if you have people that you might ski/snowboard with. If you have friends that are skiers, you should ski. If you have friends that snowboard, you should snowboard.

And a sidenote, when you are learning, learn to fall safely. Most knee injuries come from people trying not to fall and then ending up in compromised and awkward positions. If you're going to fall, just flop and do it and don't fight it.
posted by tumble at 11:52 AM on December 12, 2006

I have to disagree that snowboarding is more difficult to learn. I will admit that I have only been skiing once, and I was only about 12, but at this point I've been snowboarding for 10 years and I've taught probably a dozen people how to ride. The last person I taught was riding competently with me on the green circle (easy) runs in less than two hours. I should also mention that he was studying here from his home country of Brazil. Another friend I gave a day's worth of lessons to was tearing it up in Montana a week later. He kept up well with his girlfriend who is a very experienced snowboarder.

the first things an instructor should teach you are:
1) How to fall
2) how to go
3) how to stop quickly

The hard part of actually learning after those basic steps is learning to transition from edge to edge when you're turning (because you're basically just turning back and forth down the hill). It's fairly simple to master, though, because the act of turning a snowboard is a lesser application of the same principle used in stopping. Transitioning, then, is simply a question of balance, which you develop once you get a sense for the movements.

While it sounds complicated at first, your body is very good at balancing itself, and snowboarding is simply a matter of using your balance/weight to carve the edge of your board into the snow. With good coaching, you can develop these basic skills and have fun boarding in just a few hours.

That said, if you're only going for one day, I would recommend arranging to take a lesson before the company outing, with possibly a follow-up depending on how comfortable you feel.

Most people I know who are experienced with both boarding and skiing say that snowboarding has a very rounded learning curve. A little tricky to transition at first, but once you get the hang of it your skills improve very quickly.

SERIOUS RECOMMENDATION: Whichever you do, stretch out before and after you go, and also when you take breaks. You're going to be using your leg muscles in ways you're not used to, and you're going to be SORE AS HELL the next day. Snowboarding is still crazy fun though, it is for me a very rewarding, social, and exhilarating life hobby.

Joke: What's the difference between an amateur snowboarder and a professional?
Answer: About two weeks.
posted by baphomet at 12:02 PM on December 12, 2006

I LOVE snowboarding, but if you only have one day, ski.

The first day on a snowbaord (unless you skateboard or surf) is hellish. As stated above, the rewards are more than worth it, but not if your trip is only one day.
posted by crickets at 12:16 PM on December 12, 2006

This is some good advice here. I've also done both, and here's my take. Snowboarding is faster to pick up overall: once you learn how to carve, that's pretty much it for going downhill. Learing how to carve on a snowboarder took me longer than learning to ski, especially because you'll inevitably fall and get the wind knocked out of you good, which can be discouraging if you're not one of those kamikaze types. On the other hand, I got off the bunny hill faster when I was skiing, but my technique still isn't great and I find that there's more to concentrate on when I'm skiing. If you're only going for one day, and you're pretty sure you won't go again, I'd recommend skiing. You might get off the bunny hill on your first day, and falling hurts less. If you think you might be looking at a new hobby, here are some other things to consider:

How's your sense of balance? You need it for both, but some people like having the security of ski poles (although don't be surprised if your instructor takes them away at first) and/or being able to move their legs independently of one another. For other people that's not a big deal.

As tumble said, do you have friends who do one or the other? If so, try whichever one they do. It'll give you an excuse to get back out on the slopes, and you can learn a lot by watching them.

Also, there's a bit of subculture behind each, which you're probably already aware of: skiing tends to be viewed as the provence of yuppies; snowboarding the choice of the hoodlums and stoners. Some adults feel silly on a snowboard (although if you're going to one of the big resorts you'll probably run into a bunch of snowboarding baby boomers); some kids feel like sellouts on skis. Just FYI.

I personally think snowboarding is more fun, but I do enjoy both. A lot of it, too, is just enjoying the fresh air and the snow and the scenery, which can be done with both.

Have fun!
posted by AV at 12:20 PM on December 12, 2006

Learning how to carve on a snowboard, that is...

(I think what I originally said is best saved for the chalet afterwards...)
posted by AV at 12:24 PM on December 12, 2006

I was going to stay out of this one, but this is getting awfully one-sided in favor of snowboarding. :)

Skiing, no question. Why limit yourself? Skis will take you anywhere, whereas on a snowboard you've got to get off and hike whenever things get moderately flat.

"I found I was still fine-tuning my skiing technique years after I started."
That's part of the appeal! Who wants a sport you can feel like you've mastered early on? Skiing is really, really satisfying for me because year after year I can see my improvement. There's always forward progress to make, always something I can measure my improvement against.

"There's absolutely nothing like carving deep, fresh powder on a snowboard."
Except maybe carving deep, fresh powder on skis. ;)

Honestly, the skiing vs. snowboarding question is a bit of a holy war. Most people have one they're more drawn to... pick the one you feel and go with it.
posted by rachelv at 12:24 PM on December 12, 2006

I took one of those ski + snowboard quickie lessons the one time I was anywhere near a ski slope. I could barely stand on skis and said "sod it" less than 5 minutes into the lesson. Didn't even make it up the tiny little hill on the tow rope. Went back into the lodge and played Outrun. In contrast, I made it down the bunny slope on a snowboard with few problems later that afternoon. I still think these snow sports are for suckers, but there you go.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:38 PM on December 12, 2006

I'm a fairly competent cross-country skiier and a terrible snowboarder. Like you, I had one day of fun on a slope, and chose to take a lesson in snowboarding. I ate shit all day, and I hurt a lot more than if I had just gone skiing. Didn't even get off the bunny hill, but was able to carve turns out at the end of the day.
Your own flexibility and strength should be the deciding factors. If you can touch your toes, or are otherwise pretty happy with your flexibility, go with skiing, you'll enjoy it a lot more. See if you can hold a snowplow, with your feet directly under your shoulders, and turned in towards each other. If that's comfortable, bend your knees, again turning in towards each other. It's pretty key in being able to control your speed and have a good time.
If you're working on both those things, you might like snowboarding better. You can just throw yourself over backwards to stop. You look a bit like a flattened insect, but whatever.
posted by lilithim at 12:39 PM on December 12, 2006

Is it possible to ski with people who are snowboarding or vice versa?
posted by rafeco at 12:42 PM on December 12, 2006

Fresh snow or soft groomers: snowboarding lesson.
All other conditions: skiing lesson. Don't try to learn to snowboard if it's hard or icy.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:49 PM on December 12, 2006

rafecto, yes.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:59 PM on December 12, 2006

Ski. I took beginner lessons in both as an adult. I can ski. I cannot snowboard.
posted by clh at 1:56 PM on December 12, 2006

The consensus in this AskMe thread seems to be skiing, but note the way she phrased her question probably attracted more responses from skiiers than boarders. Check it out. There are a lot of good pointers on what to expect.
posted by Opposite George at 2:19 PM on December 12, 2006

In one day, both will be a struggle.

However, if I were you, I would go for skiing. At the end of that one day, you will be less bruised, and you will have been able to explore more of the mountain.
posted by event at 2:21 PM on December 12, 2006

Basically you will learn to turn on skis fairly decently in about an hour. You won't improve much beyond that until you put in another 10 days or so.

On a snowboard it will take you a day to learn to link 2 turns together, but after 3 days or so you will improve immensely and probably be able to keep up with other people. And your ass will hurt, a lot (but it's the fun kind of hurt).

I used to be a ski instructor and have helped a few people learn to snowboard. The MOST important thing is to take a private lesson, at least 2 hours if possible. Avoid any kind of group introductory class, even if it's free. The instructor will have no time for you. Private lessons are more expensive but worth every penny.
posted by dripdripdrop at 2:23 PM on December 12, 2006

I have got to beginner level in skiing and snowboarding. I took lessons for both when I tried each one. If you are only planning to go for one day, and are unsure if you will ever go back again, then ski. I prefer snowboarding personally, but one day ONLY of snowboarding will just be miserable and have almost no payoff. One day of skiing and you will be skiing down the bunnyslope by the end, feeling like you acheived something.

Then, if you decide you like this winter sports thing, you could make the switch to snowboarding, but not on a one-day basis. You need to go for 3 days and take lessons every day, in order to get somewhere with it. Try skiing first, see how you like the whole snow sports thing, and then make a decision later if you want to switch. Both are fun. There is no wrong decision. Have fun!
posted by Joh at 2:28 PM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Snowboard. Two days of pain and then the learning curve is so much easier.
posted by unSane at 2:30 PM on December 12, 2006

the first things an instructor should teach you are:
1) How to fall
2) how to go
3) how to stop quickly

I'm a qualified snowboard instructor and those are NOT REMOTELY the first things an instructor should teach you.
posted by unSane at 2:32 PM on December 12, 2006

piggyback: would a middle age man with grey streaks in his beard be considered to be an utter prat / coveter of red sportscars if he wanted to learn to snowboard, or would anyone care? It looks like fun but he is shy.
posted by Rumple at 2:55 PM on December 12, 2006

Rumple: ever seen the movie First Descent?

the CEO of Aspen (who has a couple pretty prominent appearances in that flick) says he picked up snowboarding at age 60 and never went back, despite that he was a lifetime expert level skier.

so, there ya go.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:01 PM on December 12, 2006

lonefrontranger -- never seen that. OK, I will throw caution to the winds and try it this winter -- record early snowfalls at the ski hills around here.
posted by Rumple at 3:32 PM on December 12, 2006

I ski infrequently, sometimes with several years passing. Last time I went, I tried snowboarding for the first time. After an hour or so I may have gone 10 maybe 12 feet. So we bagged that and tried skiboards which are basically just short skis. WOW! From my first time down the hill there was a grin plastered on my face. By the second run I was actually attempting, with some success, to ski backwards.

For me they are the perfect fit.
posted by vronsky at 4:08 PM on December 12, 2006

An important question to ask yourself is what type of motion you think would feel more natural to you. If you already surf or skateboard, picking up snowboarding is probably a safe bet. If you play hockey or can ice skate or rollerblade well, skiing is probably a better option.

As people have already said, skiing has a much longer, but gentler learning curve than snowboarding.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:22 PM on December 12, 2006

Chocolate! Oh wait, wrong question.

Personally, I say skiing because it is easier when starting (snowplow) and less punishing. When you catch a rear edge with a snowboard you perform a maneuver called a "fly-swatter" which is just what it sounds like. Something I did several times on my first day, probably because I was a little too overconfident (having done a lot of surfing and skateboarding).

If you are planning on getting seriously into it, I'd base my choice partly on conditions where you will spend most of your time. Snowboards are as fun as skis great in good snow and powder, but I much prefer skis when it gets icey or mogully, or when skiing "out of bounds".
posted by Manjusri at 4:31 PM on December 12, 2006

Rumple, as I said earlier on...snowboarding has lost a lot of its' stoner and loser reputation. Tons of people are snowboarding now. My husband and I are in our 30s and we see people snowboarding lots older than us. No one cares anymore. Just do it. Years ago it was all young punks, now everyone does it.
posted by aacheson at 4:36 PM on December 12, 2006

Rumple, 15 years ago I got in the singles line and ended up on the lift with a 6-year-old tyke who kept looking at me and my board and finally said, "Gee mister, you must be the oldest shredder on the mountain." I almost fell off my seat laughing.

Now days there are plenty of grey beards on snowboards, including the Ski Patrol. You wouldn't be out of place at all. Just don't be surprised when the kids offer you a toke on the lift.
posted by JackFlash at 5:04 PM on December 12, 2006

I have nothing new to add but I wanted to throw my weight behind skiing. You're only going for one day so you should definitely ski. I understand the enthusiasm of the snowboarding crowd, it is an absolute blast once you get the hang of it. The key phrase though is "once you get the hang of it". That almost certainly will not happen in one day. You're going to eat it all day long your first time on a snowboard.

This probably isn't particuliarly pertinent but I don't think skateboarding feels anything like snowboarding. So if you've skated before I don't think it will help you much. It didn't help me anyways.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 5:09 PM on December 12, 2006

For the record I work in the winter sports industry. I ski and snowboard around 50+ days per year. I think if this is a one day thing, you'll have more fun with a ski lesson. Your first day on a snowboard, you're going to spend a lot of time on your butt. The learning curve is a lot shorter and steeper on a snowboard, but, that first day you're probably not going to make it over the hump and be able to keep your butt out of the snow.

If you're going to keep at it and go several times this year then I would say snowboarding because by the end of the season you should be doing pretty well depending on your natural ability.
posted by trbrts at 8:23 PM on December 12, 2006

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