Ski Versus Snowboard

Skiing has timeless appeal but the upstart snowboard grows more popular every year. Two winter sports fans let the snowflakes fly.

Ski versus snowboard, illus. by Mark Matcho, image

A skier and a snowboarder face off for fun on the slopes.

Ski

Alas, snowboarders don’t actually know what they’re missing: the joy of carving big honking S turns on Deer Valley Resort’s corduroy cruisers, or ping-ponging Alta’s mogul-laced powder bowls, or challenging one of Mad River Glen’s sinewy, muscle-bound trails. Why? Because these classic alpine ski areas don’t allow one-plankers.

When I ski on these slopes, I’m free from the stress of sharing with shredders, free from that scrapey-slidey sound that makes my hackles rise when a boarder bears down on me. I don’t fret about having to pass boarders on their blind side or crowning a rise on a crowded trail and discovering a hidden boarder sitting obliviously in a trough. Nor am I reduced to breakdancing through those awkward cliff-backed moguls that boarders create.

For safety on the slopes, skis are the more enlightened choice. They trump snowboards when you’re moving across flats and cat tracks: Skiers can skate and pole; snowboarders pray their skiing friends will lend them a pole or tow them. And, of course, skis are just plain better for approaching a chairlift, where boarders have to affect a Quasimodo-style shuffle.

Skiing’s two planks also provide better balance and more stability than snowboarding’s one. Independent leg action makes it easier to finesse terrain and to react to and recover from the jolts and jars that foster falls.

Face it, snowboarding’s meteoric early growth was largely due to the coolness quotient of terrain-park and half-pipe tricks. These days, newschool freeskiers strut the best moves. Go ahead, ask a snowboarder to pull a Double Daffy Spread.

I’ll give snowboarding credit for adding amusing patterns to snow clothing, but please spare me the lowrider style.

Gotta run—I hear it’s dumping at Alta. Too bad snowboarders can’t join me. Hilary Nangle

Shred

Why should you abandon your cozy sectional and your 52-inch flat screen and pack your bags for a midwinter trip to the mountains? Two reasons: because it’s cool and because it’s fun. Why should you take a snowboard instead of skis? Because snowboarding rules on both counts.

When it comes to cool, I offer two words: Shaun White. The two-time Olympic champion is that rarest of athletes, a guy who can enthrall both a South Park–watching 14-year-old and his Antiques Roadshow–watching grandmother. Coming into the Vancouver Games in 2010, the Flying Tomato cajoled his friends at Red Bull into building him a top secret half-pipe in the Colorado backcountry, where he quietly reinvented the sport. And with the gold around his neck, he impishly played air guitar on the medal stand.

But you don’t have to be able to stick White’s signature trick, the double McTwist 1260, to understand that a snowboard is the perfect tool for descending the slopes. Perhaps that’s why snowboarding has seen a 20 percent increase over the last decade, according to the National Ski Areas Association, while visits from skiers increased only 7 percent.

On a powder day, experiencing the board floating blissfully atop the fluff is the single most pleasurable activity one can mention in a family publication. And riders are so blissed-out that we’re happy to share: Today’s superfat powder skis, which enable biped sliders to join the fun, began as a snowboard ripped in half on a band saw.

Even in late-afternoon crud, we can power through glop that will trip up all but the strongest skiers. The only snow condition in which skis are truly superior is granite-hard glare ice. Then again, there really are some days when you’re better off catching that Real Housewives of Atlanta marathon. — Allen St. John

Illustration by Mark Matcho

This article was first published in January 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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