After 15 years spent snowboarding, I made the switch to skis last month. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not turning in my board, but living in a ski town like Vail, I felt like I had no excuse not to know both disciplines.
(This reasoning tends to elicit a nervous nod and a quick change of subject from other, less ambidextrous Vail locals).
Like many boys my age, I chose to learn snowboarding because I grew up in the ‘90s, and snowboarding was the “cool” thing to do. Many enthusiast publications across the ski world thought that snowboarding would completely supplant skiing, a sport which was beginning to seem old and stodgy in the ‘90s. As a young boy growing up in Colorado, snowboarding was all that I wanted to do. Even though my father and my sister skied, the thought of trying to join them never once entered my mind. They tried to snowboard with me once: my sister took down an entire family with one sweeping turn; my stepmother bruised her tailbone so bad she never set foot on a ski mountain again. I was left as the only snowboarder in the family.
Since then, there has been quite the renaissance in skiing, thanks in part to the advent of terrain-park skiing (freeskiing), plus technological advancements which have made the sport of downhill skiing easier. Most recent estimates put today’s population split somewhere near 65 percent skiers and 35 percent snowboarders.
For myself, skiing has just always seemed like a more versatile sport. Skiers are more equipped for backcountry, mountaineering, and cross-country expeditions. If I wanted to expand my outdoors toolbox, learning to ski seemed like the next logical step.
Young skier, old skis
I learned to ski at Beaver Creek, Colorado on my stepfather’s skis: a pair of ancient Elan PSX Detonators. They were 188 centimeters long. These skis, at least 15 years old, were part of the reason people snowboarded so much in the late ‘90s and early aughts. They were awkward.
Nonetheless, they were free. I can put up with some physical discomfort if it saves me some fiscal discomfort.
Actually, there was really nothing wrong with the Elan skis. Their edge was fine, and they were fast enough after I gave them a quick wax in my garage. They’re totally solid skis, except that they’re a bit longer than is fashionable today. Beginners are generally advised to start with shorter skis, as it makes turning easier. But when it comes right down to it, skis are skis. They invent new styles every few years so they can keep selling you new gear.
Learning to ski
I fell a lot.
I fell a lot less while learning to ski than I did while learning to snowboard. Learning to snowboard hurts. Learning to ski is just a little awkward. The difference is huge. The learning curve is much more front-loaded on a snowboard, while learning to ski is a more gradual process. You can feel somewhat comfortable on skis by the end of your first day; it will take three days or so before a snowboarder starts to inherently understand the way his board is working.
Differences between snowboarding and skiing
As one might expect, the hardest part of switching from snowboarding to skiing is getting used to moving both feet independently of one another. On a snowboard both feet are firmly connected to the same object, while on skis you have full control of two separate legs. This is very disconcerting at first, and I ended up with my legs splayed in opposite directions more times than I would like to count. Not pleasant on the old hip flexors, learning to ski.
While snowboarders fall much more often in general, skiers have a much greater potential for serious injury due to the way a skier’s body can get twisted out of shape. A snowboard keeps the rider’s body aligned on a plane, which helps reduce the severity of crashes.
Luckily skiers are generally more controlled than snowboarders: a good skier will rarely crash. Snowboarders tend to be a little more playful, and thus end up with a face full of snow a lot more often. I noticed this dichotomy even in my own behavior: after five days on skis, I can now deal with black diamond terrain, but I am less likely to push myself or play around the way I will on a snowboard. For now, at least, I am content simply to cruise on skis. It could very well be the novelty just hasn’t worn off yet.
Lessons Learned from Switching From Snowboarding to Skiing
- Chairlifts are way easier on skis.
- Ski poles are just as awesome as you thought they might be.
- Snowboarders are kind of annoying when you’re skiing.
- There is a reason everyone bitches about ski boots so much.
Switching from snowboarding to skiing was surprisingly easy. Although I spent an hour or two spinning, falling, and bruising my ego, by the end of a half-day, I was confident and somewhat speedy on the greens.
It was not that easy when I learned to snowboard.
I think switching disciplines is overall easier than starting from scratch. As a transitioning snowboarder, I already knew how to read snow conditions and feel, as well as the mechanics of turning and stopping on an edge; I wasn’t intimidated by the mountain or the chairlifts. My basic knowledge of the environment allowed me to focus purely on form and technique, which was hugely helpful.
Now, with roughly around twenty hours on skis under my belt, I can ski black diamond terrain and medium-sized moguls without falling. I’m not the most stylish skier on the mountain, but I am improving rapidly and feel happy every day I can get out there and improve on my technique. For someone who had gotten very good at snowboarding to the point I was running laps all day on the double-black Chair 10, picking up skiing has revitalized my interest and sense of play on the mountain.