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What are the Differences Between Snowboarding and Skiing?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Snowboarding and skiing are sports that take place on snow and are especially popular in northern climates. People of all ages, skill levels and physical fitness can participate in both sports, especially if they have taken lessons. The primary differences between them are the equipment involved and the techniques used. A snowboarder stands sideways on a single, wide board, and a skier faces forward on one or two narrow skis. A skier also typically uses ski poles to help him balance, turn and propel himself, but a snowboarder does not.


The sport of snowboarding emerged in the 1970s, many centuries after skiing became popular. Snowboarding uses a solid board similar to a surfboard or large skateboard. A snowboarder wears boots that can be attached to the board with special equipment called bindings. The bindings are situated so that, when the user's boots are attached, the toes are facing one side of the board. Whether they face the left side or the right side depends on how the bindings are installed, which is based on the snowboarder's preference for which foot is forward.

Skiing typically involves the use of two skis, one for each foot, with the user's boots facing forward and being attached using bindings. A variation of the sport, called monoskiing, involves the use of one wide ski to which both boots are attached facing forward. People who have some type of physical disability in their legs can use monoskis that have raised seats attached attached to them. A ski pole has a grip on one end, along with a strap that goes around the user's hand or wrist, and it has a pointed tip at the other end.


The terrain for skiing varies much more than the terrain for snowboarding does. Both sports can be done on mountain slopes, hillsides or man-made areas that slope downward, although there might be some short areas that are somewhat level or slightly uphill. Skiing, however, can be done on flat ground or even uphill slopes, because the skier can use the poles to push off the ground and propel himself. Cross-country skiing is a variation in which the skier must propel himself across this type of terrain most of the time and can coast downhill only some of the time.

Using ski poles and two separate skis typically gives skiers more control than snowboarders have. For example, a skier usually can turn more quickly. This often means that skiers can travel in more heavily wooded or rocky areas that would be too dangerous for most snowboarders.

Techniques and Skill

Both of these sports can be difficult to learn, and injuries are common for beginners. Experts say that anyone who wants to learn how to ski or snowboard should take lessons from a qualified instructor and should begin on relatively easy terrain, such as small hills that have gradual slopes. Many people believe that snowboarding is more difficult to learn, because balancing on a single board is more of a challenge, and the user cannot use poles for balance. Even experienced skiers might need lessons to learn how to snowboard safely. Skiing, however, can involve much higher rates of speed when the slope is steep enough and the skier is highly skilled.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports n' Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By SarahSon — On Sep 02, 2012

Does it cost more to buy snowboard gear than ski gear? All of it seems expensive to me, but I wondered if there was more you needed in the way of protection if you were going to snowboard.

This is something my son wants to try and I am not all that excited about it. He thinks all he has to do is get on the board and and go down the hill. I keep trying to tell him there is a lot more to it than that.

Since he has never skied before I don't think it will be nearly as easy as he thinks it will be.

By Mykol — On Sep 01, 2012

I did not learn how to ski until I was in my 30's. This is something I wished I had learned when I was younger. It took most of the day before I felt very confident to leave the bunny hill.

I am not the best skier, but it is still something I enjoy today. It used to make me really nervous when there were a lot of snowboarders around me, but now I have gotten used to them. There is no way I would ever try to snowboard. I would be afraid I would somehow cause some major damage to myself or someone else around me.

By myharley — On Aug 31, 2012

Whether you are learning how to ski or snowboard, I would definitely take a lesson or two. I used to go on the ski trips with our church youth group. Many of the kids had never gone before and we always encouraged them to take advantage of the free lesson.

Some of the kids picked up on it real fast and others struggled all day long. I have done both and think that learning how to snowboard takes a lot longer than learning how to ski.

You can always tell who the beginners are because they hang out on the bunny hill for awhile until they feel confident taking on steeper slopes.

By honeybees — On Aug 30, 2012

@donbri5-- My kids would absolutely love to live in a place where they could go skiing or snowboarding during the school day.

We try to take a ski trip once a year to the mountains. Once you ski in the mountains, it is hard to be content skiing at some of the smaller places.

Two of my kids prefer to ski, but one of them likes to snowboard. He started out skiing at first, but many of his friends were "boarding" so he decided to join them.

I have never tried snowboarding and don't think I would do very well on just one board. I will stick with my two skis and poles any day.

By donbri5 — On Feb 23, 2011

We live in the mountains and have a resort in our town. Skiing and snowboarding are a way of life here. Our schools actually have days in the winter set aside for the students to go to the ski resort as a group! They can bring the equipment to school in the morning and leave it at the office until it is time to go.

My son tells me that if you are a skate boarder in the nice weather, you will have an easier time learning how to snowboard. I guess the balance skills are basically the same. What I would like to know, since the bindings on the snowboard are not made to snap off in a fall, like in skiing, are you at more risk of serious injury? Or does the fact that you are facing sideways instead of face forward have something to do with the safety of the fall?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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