Nothing quite compares to a holiday on the slopes. Whether you’re completely new to snowsports or simply researching which sport is best for your child, friend or relative to learn when they accompany you on your next holiday, there are several things to consider when choosing between skiing and snowboarding.

Here, we take a look at some of the most important factors, including which activity is easiest to learn and how fast you can expect to progress.

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Interest levels

It’s easy to get so caught up investigating how challenging the respective sports are to learn that you might pass by the first key consideration – which sport interests you most? It might be that you don’t have a significant preference for either, but if you do, it’s worth being led by that – at least to a degree. After all, things that interest us are often easier to learn because of that motivation. And if you’ve always dreamed of being able to tackle black runs on skis, or to do impressive snowboard tricks, there’s no better reason to choose one over the other.

Which is easiest to learn at first?

There’s a common saying that skiing is easier to learn than snowboarding, but harder to master, and there’s more than a modicum of truth in this. This is largely because the first few days of learning to ski involve more ‘natural’ movements – each leg moves independently, and you face forwards. By contrast, in snowboarding your feet are fixed to a single board, meaning your legs can no longer move independently, and you’ll face sideways.

These factors translate to significant differences during the first few days’ learning. In the case of skiing, you’re likely to feel like you’re progressing quite quickly, getting the hang of simple turns that make it relatively easy to move round the mountain with confidence. When it comes to snowboarding, however, you’re likely to spend a significant portion of those early days falling over while you get used to the unfamiliar position and movement.

However, once you get past the initial stages, snowboarding becomes the easier of the two. The reason is that, once you have mastered the basics (and found your balance!), you are ready to go on-piste and even quickly progress to off-piste and, if you like the sound of learning a few tricks, snowparks.

While you can move on to blue and even red runs relatively quickly when skiing, you will find without significantly advancing your skills, you won’t be able to master these – or progress further. The reason is the basics you learn when you’re a beginner, which teach you to rotate your whole body when you turn, aren’t sufficient to master these slopes, and you’ll start to struggle to stay in control as soon as you hit steeper runs.

The challenges of skiing

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The major challenge of skiing lies in its mastery; however, there are some hurdles to leap during the initial stages too:

  • Getting to grips with how it feels (this will be easier if you have done some ice skating in the past) and gaining confidence.
  • Losing your balance – it happens to everyone!
  • Getting used to your ski boots, as they’re going to be a lot stiffer (and overall less comfortable) than the footwear you’re used to. They’re designed to keep your feet and ankles stable, so this compromise in comfort is necessary. They shouldn’t actively hurt, however, so if you finish the day and you’re very sore, go back to where you hired them and get refitted.
  • It can be hard on your knees. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures are among the most common ski injuries – but, of course, strains such as these are more of a concern once you’ve progressed and are a regular skier as opposed to just starting out.

The challenges of snowboarding

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Contrasting skiing, the chief challenge of snowboarding – at least for beginners – is getting to grips with the basics of balance and turning. After that, it’s largely about avoiding common novice mistakes – though, of course, there are plenty of appealing challenges in the form of countless tricks and skills to learn!

  • Being in too much of a rush. As previously mentioned, snowboarding can feel like an uphill struggle in the first few days, so putting pressure on yourself to make a lot of headway early on is going to make learning a much more frustrating process. Accept that you’re going to fall a lot in those first days and feel like you’re really battling to make progress; you’ll soon get the hang of balancing and turns, and once you have, the slopes will be your oyster!
  • Falling incorrectly. It’s natural to want to use your hands to break any falls, but your specialist clothing is much better suited to absorbing the shock, so try to resist the temptation and fall onto your bum instead!
  • Upper body injuries. As with skiing, injuries (with the exception of muscles soreness and minor strains) are less likely in the early stages when you’re being extra-cautious. Once you get going, be aware that collarbones and tailbones are particularly vulnerable to shocks when you fall.

How quickly will I progress?

After a relatively easy first few days, you will find you’re confident at several key techniques, such as the snowplough, french fries, and the snowplough turn, which get you used to travelling at speed and maneuvering. After this, the hard work begins. This is when the early benefit of having independent movement of each leg and attached ski begins to feel like more of a hindrance – largely because coordinating the movement of your legs can be very tricky.

The advantage of skiing’s obstacles, however, is that mastering the skills you need to progress feels very rewarding – it’s great if you’re looking for a sport that will continue to challenge you.

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After getting to grips with balance and the two basic types of turn (backside and frontside), snowboarders will find life becomes much easier. Progression becomes a question of practice, and of picking and choosing which particular skills you’d like to learn, rather than mastering further essential fundamentals. So, in many ways, despite early difficulties, snowboarding often seems successful faster than skiing – especially as increased speed tends to make the sport feel easier because of less friction between the snow and the board.

Should I get professional ski/snowboard lessons?

Yes! This is something that skiing and snowboarding have in common. Whichever sport you choose, it’s vital to get the fundamentals absolutely right, and there is no substitute for professional tuition in helping you to do so. Remember, you don’t necessarily need to invest a lot of time in lessons (though you can if you like, and it will certainly help speed up your progress) – just a few short classes will do wonders, and you can spend the rest of your time with friends or family.

Core fitness requirements

Both physically demanding, skiing and snowboarding require a good level of fitness, so you shouldn’t be a stranger to aerobic activity before you begin. However, when initially learning, each sport places slightly different demands on the body.

For example, snowboarding requires a lot of core strength, largely because balance is so important from the outset, and is an essential component of turning. In the early days of skiing, however, your legs tend to feel the brunt of the workout, so it’s important that your muscles – particularly in the thigh – are strong.

Find out more about your ski and snowboard travel options.

Kristy enjoys embarking on varied adventures - hiking in Wales, admiring Gaudi's handiwork in Barcelona, ambling aimlessly along the streets of Berlin… She has turned her travels into tales for online readers for the past three years.

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