Three ski resorts in the United States ban snowboarders. Some snowboarders take that personally.
I skied from the time I was three until I was fourteen. I raced. I rode big mountain terrain. I was really good. I can count on one hand the number of times I came across a rideable slope that I was too timid to tackle.
Then, in my teens, I switched to snowboarding and never looked back. I enjoyed it more. I later became certified to teach snowboarding and now write the About.com Snowboarding Guide.
So, I’m fairly well-experienced in both sports.
I don’t care that some ski resorts choose to ban snowboarders. I’m not a fan of exclusionary business practices, but, if those ski hills could capitalize on the feelings of camaraderie, nostalgia, and sense purity that exists among long-time skiers, then more power to ‘em. There’s more than enough other terrain out there for me.
There is something that does upset me though.
Some skiers are very biased against snowboarders.
If you don’t believe me, watch this video, taken by snowboarders petitioning to be allowed on Alta.
Last year during my Best in the West Ski and Snowboard Tour I was often guided around ski areas by former (and current) competitive skiers. Most of the time my hosts were gracious and thought nothing of the plank strapped to my feet. We only needed to ride for a few minutes together before they realized that I could go basically anywhere that they could.
Some of my guides, however, weren’t so open-minded. They’d sneer when they saw that the journalist they were asked to show around had one board, rather than two, strapped to his feet. They’d condescendingly say things like, “That’s a great spot, but we don’t want to go there. The traverse is too long.” or “No, we can’t go there. There are too many moguls.”
I found myself having to defend my choice of ride. These skiers wrongly assumed that I couldn’t traverse, that I couldn’t carve properly, and that I’d scrape all the snow off of the runs.
I had to assure these skiers that I would traverse anywhere they wanted to, that I could hold an edge across an icy slope, that I could keep up with them on a cat track, and that they could indeed hop off of the chair and just start skiing right away, because I would be able to catch up after stopping for five seconds to strap in my rear foot.
By the end of our time together most of these skiers would say things like, “I’ve never ridden with a snowboarder like you,” or “You’re not like other snowboarders. You can actually ride.”
There are a lot of snowboarders, like me, who can navigate a mountain just as easily as a skier.
We can go pretty much anywhere and do pretty much anything that a skier can do just as easily as a skier.
I’ll admit, in some situations I have to put in more effort to keep up on traverses and cat tracks.
I can, however, keep up just fine and I don’t mind the work.
It aggravates me when skiers condescendingly assume that my ability to maneuver on the mountain is somehow hindered by the board on my feet.
There are differences between skiing and snowboarding. Many peoples ideas about what the real differences are, however, are ridiculous and insulting.
I’ve put a lot of thought into this. As both a skier and snowboarder I’m in a unique position to tackle this issue. So, on this post I’m going to address the differences between skiing and snowboarding once and for all.
I’m going to tell you what the real differences are, show you that they are in fact really quite small, and then frankly put to bed a lot of the bullshit stereotypes about snowboarders.
The root of the problem is that cultural differences between skiers and snowboarders have been overblown and that most snowboarders are stained with an image that comes from a very small — but extremely visible — minority of snowboarders.
The Real Differences Between Skiers and Snowboarders
There are three types of differences between skiing and snowboarding: technical, emotional, and cultural.
Technical differences are the things that are made possible, impossible, easy, and difficult, by the nature of the technology. For example, a skier can (theoretically) carve a shaper turn than a snowboarder because he has two edges in the snow rather than one. Emotional differences have to do with the way the ride feels; the smoothness, flow, and enjoyment. Then we have cultural differences, which is the source of most of the bad blood between skiers and riders.
Below, I will talk about all three.
There are two important technical differences between skiing and snowboarding: the number of edges in the snow and the ability to move your legs as a biped.
I will say this now. Skiers, please try to contain your delight.
Skis are more technically functional than snowboards.
It’s true. With skis you have four edges on the snow. You can turn more sharply. You can skate and push yourself with poles.
Skiers are often quick to point these things out.
I would also like to point out, however, that in 99.9% of circumstances, a snowboarder can overcome the technical differences between the two using effort and skill.
Some skiers assume that snowboarders are unable to follow long traverses. In most cases this is not true. It all depends on the ability of the snowboarder.
Having done a great deal of research last winter, I can tell you from experience that skiers are generally sloppy and lazy traversers.
They rightly should be. It’s easy to traverse on skis, so there is no reason to be attentive. So, most skiers cruise along mindlessly, unconcerned about carrying momentum because if they lose speed they can simply push with a pole.
A good snowboarder, on the other hand, is a master of maximizing momentum. He chooses his path carefully and pumps the grooves and bumps in the trail for speed. If he loses his speed he always has the option of frog-hopping a few steps up the hill so that the can ride down to the trail to build more speed.
This is sufficient to reach 99.9 percent of in-bounds terrain in most ski areas. If a snowboarder wants to tackle that last .01 percent, that snowboarder would need a splitboard.
So, although skis are technically more proficient, a good snowboarder can access effectively all of the same in-bounds terrain as skiers if they’re skilled and willing to put in a bit of extra effort.
The same holds true when it comes to flats. Unstrapping and pushing a snowboard is not fun, but, given the way that most ski hills are built (to prevent skiers from having to skate) a good snowboarder can unstrap and keep up to a skier of comparable ability most of the time
In all but the most extreme cases, snowboards are able to achieve the same results as skis. It is true that the snowboarder may have to put in some extra physical effort — but there is a payoff for that, which is what I’m going to discuss next.
Feeling and Enjoyment
This is highly subjective and there’s no right answer for everyone — so I won’t dwell on it too long — but this is the main reason that I prefer snowboarding to skiing.
The qualities that make snowboards less technically functional than skis — the lack of biped motion and extra edges — are the same qualities that make snowboarding feel so damned good.
Snowboarding feels smoother than skiing does.
Yes, a skier’s four edges have an advantage in technically challenging situations. However, when it comes to those glorious times — the ones that make you want to get up at six in the morning and drive to the hill — those times that you’re ploughing through snorkel-deep powder, screaming over beautifully-groomed corduroy, or plummeting down a sudden drop-off with your stomach in your mouth — managing two edges feels more fluid, natural, and enjoyable than managing four.
I’ve heard even the most hardcore skiers admit the appeal of a big fat snowboard on a powder day. The enjoyment of a rider sluffing floaty s-turns down a steep pitch of untouched pow is obvious.
So, although, skis are more technically proficient, snowboarding offers a better experience.
The difference is slight — the experiential advantage of snowboarding is about as big as the technical advantage of skiing — but it is worth mentioning.
It’s the reason that I choose to snowboard.
This is where things get hairy.
Before I start talking about the cultural differences between skiers and snowboarders — which basically means talking about stereotypes — I have to point out that I hate stereotypes and believe that every person deserves to be judged on their individual character.
The stereotypes I’m talking about are not my own personal beliefs, but views that I’ve noticed that others tend to hold; views which are at the root of much of the conflict between skiers and snowboarders.
The Bad Snowboarder Stereotype
The most extreme stereotype of snowboarders is one of punk skateboarders who figured out how to ride on snow and enjoy ruining the on-mountain experience for everyone else. This stereotype asserts that snowboarders are disrespectful, technically sloppy, aggressive, and unaware of others on the hill.
There are plenty snowboarders that fit this stereotype. I’ve met them and you’ve met them. (Then again, there are some skiers that fit it too.) They are, however, an overwhelming minority. The vast majority of snowboarders I know are kind and respectful.
A lot of the qualities reflected in this stereotype arise from a focus on a very small, but highly-visible, part of the snowboarding community.
Bullshit Snowboarder Stereotypes
A lot of the stereotypes about snowboarders arise from a small group of very visible snowboarders: park riders.
Park riders are the most visible snowboarders on the mountain. They spend their time on the busiest runs near the busiest lifts, so they are the snowboarders the average encounters most often.
Park snowboarders, however, probably make up less than half of the snowboarding community. The rest of us are off cruising down groomed runs or searching for pow.
It often happens in subcultures that a small minority of aggressive loudmouths get all of the attention from parents and the press. This is true of snowboarding.
There are lots of super douchebag snowboarders out there. They cut you off on the hill, nearly run you over, ride way too fast in slow areas, and flip the bird to anyone who gets in their way.
But there are lots of super douchebag skiers for that matter. And soccer players. And bakers and doctors and policemen.
Douchebaggery is not limited to snowboarding.
The snowboarding community includes a proportion of douchebags approximately equal to that of any other social group. For the sake of statistics, let’s say that that one out of ten people in the general population are douchebags.
So, if park riders make up, say, 40 percent of snowboarders, and 10 percent of those are super douchebags, we have a situation where all snowboarders are being judged based on the actions of around four percent of douchebag park riders, who come into contact with a very large number of people on the hill because they spend their time in the busiest places.
The following snowboarder stereotypes are based on this tiny minority of douchbag park riders and are dead wrong:
Bullshit Stereotype #1: Snowboarders Can’t Carve
A lot of skiers feel that snowboarders are technically crappy at turning and stopping, making them a danger to others around them.
There is a sliver of truth to this argument (two edges can turn and stop better than one) but it has been blown way out of proportion.
Snowboarders (and skiers) who hang out in the terrain park ride gear that’s customized for aerial maneuvers and rails. Their boards (or skis) are shorter for spinning, and their edges are dulled so that they won’t catch on rails.
Short boards (or skis) with dull edges are not able to turn sharply.
So, yes, some very visible douchebag snowboarders (and skiers) ride equipment that is not technically capable of making sharp turns. They do it at high speeds in crowded areas, and I’m sorry about that.
But that doesn’t mean that we all do it.
Bullshit Stereotype #2: Snowboarders Scrape the Powder Off the Mountain
This stereotype is based on an understandable misperception.
People see novice snowboarders sideslipping on the hill where novice skiers are snowplowing. So, on beginner (and some intermediate) terrain you’ll often see snowboarders sideslipping while skiers do not, because they have the option of snowplowing.
This creates the perception that snowboarders sideslip more than skiers.
When you get into the steeps, however, this ceases to be true. In the steeps, snowboarders and skiers both sideslip equally and for the same reason.
Sideslipping is for people who are riding terrain beyond their ability.
If a snowboarder sideslips down a slope, she will scrape away most of the powder on it.
If a skier sideslips down a slope, he will also scrape away most of the powder on it.
If a skier or snowboarder carves down the same slope, they will both displace approximately the same amount of pow.
The truth is that when you take either a skier or snowboarder down a pitch that they can’t handle, they will sideslip the snow off of it equally well.
Bullshit Stereotype #3: Snowboarders Ruin Moguls
This is basically the same as the above complaint. A good snowboarder will weave between moguls in the same way as a good skier.
A bad snowboarder will ride over them, in the same way that a bad skier will.
Bullshit Stereotype #4: Most Snowboarders Are Aggressive Teenagers
Snowboarding has been around since the mid 1960s. This means that the 5.1 million snowboarders on the mountain range from young children to senior citizens.
My father, at 68, loves snowboarding. A study by the Leisure Trends Group in 2004, found that 1.1 million snowboarders were over the age of 35.
We are not all young punks. I’m thirty-five and have a job, a salary…you know, a normal life.
Bullshit Stereotype #5: Learning to Snowboard is Easy
“It took me two days to become an intermediate snowboarder,” Chris G., a writer for Yahoo Voices, said, “By the end of the second day I could take the board down any intermediate run and could even jump fairly well.”
You have to attain a certain level of skill at any task before it becomes fun, whether it be playing guitar, figure skating, or baking cookies.
Generally speaking, it is easier to learn how to manage two edges on the snow than it is to learn how to manage four — at least in the beginning. So, it is probably easier for most people to go from zero to fun on a snowboard than on skis.
This should hardly be considered a shortcoming, though.
And, once you start looking at advanced technical maneuvers, the learning curve is pretty much equally steep for both skiers and snowboarders. When it comes to hucking backflips and charging 40 degree chutes, it simply comes down to the ability of the individual, not the plank strapped to their feet.
Bullshit Stereotype #6: Snowboarding is Loud
Many skiers claim that snowboarders make a horrible scraping noise when riding downhill or coming to a stop.
I’m no physicist, but I doubt that. A snowboard, because it’s broader, makes a low-pitched sound when it vibrates. Low sounds carry farther.
Skis, on the other hand, make a high-pitched sound when they scrape over ice. This sound is in all likelihood equally loud. It just doesn’t carry as far.
The sound of snowboards on ice may carry farther, but, in my opinion, the sound of skis on ice is more unpleasant.
Can We Be Friends?
Most skiers are totally cool with snowboarders.
However, some skiers make accusations about snowboarders that are are downright ignorant.
I have met you. You assumed the worst of me before we even got on the chairlift. You roll your eyes because of all the time you expect to waste, waiting for me to strap in. You preach about how we can’t traverse to all the places that you can, and how we ruin your favorite runs.
You are full of shit.
Despite that, I’d like to shake hands and call it water under the bridge.
Here’s what I propose.
You let go of your preconceptions and wait until you see me ride before you judge me.
I’ll forget about all the ignorant things you said about me.
Do we have a deal?