New West winter showdown.
From time immemorial, there’s been an unwritten animosity between skiers and snowboarders. If skiing were the Beatles, snowboarding would be the Rolling Stones. If skiing were Moose Tracks ice cream, snowboarding would be Rocky Road. If skiing were the Enlightenment, snowboarding would be Transcendentalism. We’re honestly a little surprised it’s taken us so long to get these two in the ring. But finally, the West’s most coveted winter outdoor activities are going head-to-head.
The time it takes you to pick up a new activity can be a real barrier to entry. Both skiing and snowboarding require a hefty amount of balance and coordination. The big difference here is that skiing is on two separate boards (four total edges) where the skier faces directly downhill. On a snowboard, you face sideways with only two edges at your disposal. Neophytes in both sports can expect to churn their stomachs, flail their arms, and risk their body parts. Sure, learning how to transfer edges on a snowboard has fractured more wrists and caused more concussions than Mike Tyson three lifetimes over, nut many folks report that the learning curve is faster on a board, once you get the basics down.
Untracked snow is the best in both worlds. Skiers experience the rush of charging through a snow-white environment, getting face shots on every turn—but only when the snow is deep. Snowboarders, on the other hand, can float seamlessly on top of a mere few inches of fresh snow. And when the cold smoke starts stacking up, there’s nothing more ethereal than floating a heelside turn beneath a wall of white. You’ll be happy on a pow day either way, but this one goes to standing sideways.
We’re honestly a little surprised it’s taken us so long to get these two in the ring. But finally, the West’s most coveted winter outdoor activities are going head-to-head.
Fresh corduroy on a sunny day is akin to Juanita’s chips dipped in Hot Mama’s salsa—they’re meant for each other. But which craft yields the most fun? Angle is everything, and a slight change in perspective earns snowboarding some serious points here. With a limited field-of-view comes a more dynamic motion, forward and back. Reaching out and touching the snow (read: knuckle-dragging) through a high-angle turn is in a league of its own, but it’s nearly impossible to pull off if the slope is somewhat icy. The extra grip afforded on skis lets you gracefully arc turns, no matter the substrate. It’s a toss-up.
From legends like Jonny Moseley and his famous 360 mute grab in 1998, to present-day titans like Mikaël Kingsbury and his impressive Olympic resume, mogul skiing has written its own chapter in snow sports history. It’s a joy to both partake in and spectate. On the flip side, unless you’re under the age of 20 and enjoy abrasive shifts in body posture, snowboarding in bumps is awkward, unergonomic, and should be avoided at all costs.
We’ve covered the basics, but what happens when we leave the resort boundaries? In the backcountry, variability increases tenfold. You can’t rely on chairlifts and cat-tracks to get where you need to be, so transportation becomes more unpredictable. In southwest Montana, we often need to traverse multiple drainages to get to where we want to ski. Thus, when it comes to touring, speed and efficiency are the name of the game. If you’re on a splitboard, the number of steps it takes to transition from uphill to downhill mode likely outnumbers the vertical feet you plan to ride. These days, ski-mountaineering nerds are getting it done in less than 20 seconds.
Anyone who’s spent a day in ski boots can attest to their clumsiness. Not to mention, when your feet get cold, they’re nearly impossible to warm up. Snowboarding boots, on the other hand, are malleable enough to hang out in all day and wiggle your toes in to get the blood moving again. However, snowboarders spend a lot of time sitting down, and that can make for a cold tush. When they’re not sitting, they’re usually traversing, and have you ever traversed on a snowboard? It sucks.
Snowboarding has a respectable story as a counterculture movement, and without it, we’d have nothing to debate in the first place. But there’s no doubt about which activity has deeper roots. The earliest archeological findings of skis date back to 6000 BC, and throughout history, skiing has proven to be just as utilitarian as it is fun. Plus, skiing is the namesake of winter recreation hubs. Who’s ever heard of a “snowboard town?”
We can’t quite say we’re surprised, but we’re glad to see snowboarding notch up a point. Skiing earns the victory cockily, perhaps suggesting to its younger cousin, anything you can do I can do better. Snowboarders may be apt to reply, who cares?