To those who don’t ski or snowboard, the two sports can seem quite similar. Both are about going downhill on snow, using your own two feet and both involve strange clothing and protective gear. However, as anyone who’s ever done both will tell you, in terms of the overall experience, they’re miles apart. So if you’re thinking about snowboarding or considering changing teams for a few days, here are some things to consider. If you’re already a snowboarder, perhaps some of these points will ring a few bells.
The knowledge that there’s more to it than spinning
When snowboarding made it into the Winter Olympic Games in 1998, it was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it meant that it was no longer considered an extreme sport. Snowboarding became a more acceptable sport and terrain parks and jib spots started popping up in more resorts around Europe. However, everyone and their uncle started thinking that snowboarding meant pipe riding and in particular, spins. Only once you’ve spent time on the mountain, riding off piste and along tree runs do you really get an idea of how far away the sport is from the TV version.
The joy of fear
Whether you’re just learning to link your turns or standing at the top of a ridge wondering how you’re going to get down, there’s something exciting about being scared on a snowboard. The same adrenaline shot is there on skis, but the difference is, you can walk or at least ski away. Snowboarding requires you to engage more fully with your fear. Looking up from the bottom of a valley, hoping that a skier doesn’t start an avalanche while you’re strapped in and can’t reach your bindings, shows you that you have to plan far, far ahead to make sure you stay safe. This is closely related to the next point.
The only true way to overcome fear is to embrace it and most importantly, learn from it. We came across this article which may offer a few hints ‘10 tips to make you a better snowboarder‘.
The talent to predict where the next flat spot lies
Flat pistes are a nice change of terrain for skiers, a chance to do some nordic style cross-country and get the heart muscles pumping, but for unprepared snowboarders they are similar to the feeling of slowly running out of petrol, miles from anywhere. This is why you need to be looking off as far as possible to see what lies ahead. It’s also why you need to pump going down the last hill as if you’re trying to race everyone on the piste. Keep your speed up!
A respect for black clothing
Fashion is fickle and this is doubly true in snowboarding. Is it neon and pastel this year or normcore tartan? The wise among us may decide black is the only safe option, but be warned, all-black outfits are reserved for “Masters”. In snowboarding, this means very experienced and mature persons over 30. Yes, 30 is still old. You can get away with dark charcoal grey at any age, but let’s just hope it doesn’t get wet.
An obsession with washing your pants at the right temperature or not washing them at all.
Yes, your pants will have some sort of waterproof coating that will allow you to sit with your bottom on the snow without getting a wet patch... or at least you thought they did, but now you have a wet backside. This is because when you wash snowboard pants in the machine, the lining gets damaged. You really only need to experience this once with a brand new pair of pants to remember the lesson forever.
Mixed emotions about protective gear
Want to be as kitted up as an American football player, but don’t want any movement restrictions that will lead to falls and injuries? Sorry, that’s the paradox of safe snowboarding. If you’ve got an existing injury such as a healed ACL, a knee brace is a very good idea. Bum protector shorts can be worn under your pants and save you from bruises without getting in the way. Likewise, a helmet is a must around boxes and rails and while learning at low speeds. Just remember, after about 25mph, a helmet won’t help in a fall or collision and could injure another piste user.
The realisation that button lifts are out to get you
Talking of falling, why do button lifts still exist? You may remember these from the 1980s dry ski slopes, as a rubber Frisbee on a rope jammed between your thighs was all the rage back then. They are cheap, low risk and low maintenance, but much easier for skiers to use than snowboarders. Still, it can be done, and it’s just a matter of practice and learned technique. As a rule, the best approach is to unstrap your back foot, grab the rope as high up as possible and then gain speed with the pulley by letting the rope slip through your (gloved) hand. Then tuck the seat behind your back leg and anchor your foot against your binding...and good luck.
The true meaning of Mother Nature
People often ask if learning to snowboard is harder than learning to ski. Generally, it’s not, but skiing is more forgiving. When learning to ski, you can ski a little and stop. When learning to snowboard, you’re either doing it or lying flat on your face. This level of engagement makes snowboarding a lot more like surfing and gives you the feeling of being at the mercy of the elements of nature. Skiing developed as a means of transport, and is an effective way of getting around in snow, whether it’s traversing a flat plain, climbing uphill or picking your way down a steep slope. Snowboarding is strictly for fun. You’re not conquering Mother Nature, you’re hanging out with her.
You can have too much powder
It’s snowing! Hurrah! Grab your board and let’s go. You can’t have too much of a good thing, can you? Well, maybe you can. Skiers experience this too, landing in 3ft drifts in the trees brings you to a dead stop. However, again, they can do that strange thing called lifting their feet, which snowboarders can’t. You just have to hope you can pull yourself out by a tree or reach down to unstrap. Likewise, after a heavy dump of snow, within a couple of hours, the unbashed piste will be all moguls. There’s really nothing that makes your heart sink more than a kilometre long piste full of lumps and bumps, except perhaps, no snow at all.
A strange aversion to skiers
This is so outdated. Come on now, we’re all adults and every crew has a couple of token skiers in the pack who are amazing snowboarders and all round mountain warriors. A more accurate description would be, snowboarders have an aversion to those skiers we don’t know, because those ones are just trouble. Why do they meander from one side of the piste to the other, like they’re riding lawnmowers? Why do they decide to come to a grinding halt on the greens, on the crest of the hill or right in front of the hits with their skis pointing out? Why do they wave their poles about at head height so much, while waiting for the lift? Well, the simple and much disputed answer is, because they’re not as experienced. At European resorts at least, non-local skiers are more likely to be holidaymakers, whereas non-local snowboarders are more likely to be seasonaires. It used to be that snowboarders were statistically younger and possibly less experienced, but these days, skiers and snowboarders tend to be around the same average age.
All that said, it’s not cool to hate skiers anymore and it is well and truly time to leave the old animosities behind. This is best done from our side by being a better, more considerate piste user and snowboarding defensively. Skiers often complain that snowboarders congregate in groups and sit in inconvenient places, which is ironic because we’re sure they do the same. However, making sure you’re well off to the side and not on the down slope of a blind spot when it’s time for a tête-à-tête is a good idea, if you don’t want a pair of skis in your back. When following a skier, give them plenty of room and expect them to stop, swerve or cross their skis at any point. If one does drop unceremoniously out of the trees to perform an illegal piste merger, without apologising, don’t yell at them and get into a piste-rage situation - just spray them with snow and move on. It’s the mature thing to do.