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If you know anything at all about the winter sports community, you know about the friendly rivalry between skiers and snowboarders. In general, skiing has a reputation for being more technical, while snowboarding is considered ‘cooler.’ Is this true, is snowboarding really more popular than skiing?
Nope. Snowboarding, in terms of numbers, is not more popular than skiing! There are by far more skiers than snowboarders.
There are about half as many snowboarders as skiers. However, the common misconception that there are more snowboarders than skiers comes from its meteoric rise in the 90s.
To better understand the different perceptions of skiing and snowboarding in the modern day, let’s take a look at the history of each sport.
History of Skiing
Skiing is significantly older than snowboarding. The first skiers are thought to be the Sami, or the indigenous people of Scandinavia.
They used skis between the years 8000-6000 BC, most likely as a form of transportation and for hunting. We know that people skied in these times due to cave paintings and ancient ski fragments.
Skis back then looked nothing like the skis we have now. They were shorter, broader, and made of wood; they looked more like snowshoes than the skis we’re now familiar with.
By 1200 AD, there is the first evidence of skis being used in warfare, which continued all the way up until World War I and World War II. While the first documented use of recreational skiing came in 1841 and the first race occurred in 1861, many credit the veterans of World War I and World War II with popularizing the sport.
In any event, the very first chairlift came into being in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1936 (despite not being the oldest ski resort). Downhill skiing was introduced into the Olympics this same year.
Nordic skiing had been a part of the Olympics since the very first Winter Olympics in 1924. Freestyle skiing would not become a part of the professional world stage until 1988. We have a full article on the history of skiing if you would like to learn more.
History of Snowboarding
The first modern cousin to the snowboard came into being in the mid-1960s and was invented by Sherman Poppen. It was called the Snurfer, as it didn’t have bindings and resembled a surfboard more closely than the snowboards we have today.
Snurfers didn’t have brakes or leashes, meaning that if a rider lost control of the board, it would go rocketing down the hill at insane speeds, leading to the invention of the Winterstick in 1972. It had steel edges and a nylon strap, but the company went bankrupt within a few years.
Enter one of the most famous names in the outdoor community, Jake Burton, in the late 1970s. Burton is credited as a snowboarding pioneer, who worked tirelessly to improve the technology behind snowboards and to garner acceptance at ski resorts.
Snowboarding had a reputation for being dangerous and snowboarders were considered to be unruly and disrespectful. Therefore, most ski resorts had banned snowboarding by the 1980s in the United States.
But, snowboarders carved out a place for themselves nonetheless. HBO’s documentary Dear Rider covers exactly how snowboarding went from an outcast sport to one of the most watched Olympic events.
Even though snowboarding was allowed at most resorts by the 1990s, a massive rivalry was brewing. It wasn’t just because of the different methods of riding the snow, it was a completely different cultural approach to winter sports.
Now there are only 3 resorts in the United States that ban snowboarders.
Skiing and Snowboarding Rivalry
Because snowboarders were received with so much pushback from the skiing community, snowboarding got a reputation for rebelliousness. Particularly on the east coast, skiing had been quite a serious sport, focused on technique and racing.
Snowboarding got its first real start in the surfing and skateboarding community on the west coast. This was a much more party-centric crowd than skiing, and in general, focused more on aerials than speed.
Even down to their clothing style on the hill, skiers and snowboarders differed greatly. Skiers opted for functional, water-resistant clothing, while snowboarders were more likely to wear baggy, street-style clothing on the hill. Learn more about the history of ski style over the last 100 years.
Skiers would claim that not only was snowboarding a danger to other people on the hill but that it would ruin the snow for them. Because snowboards are so much bigger than skis, they leave large ruts in the powder.
So used to having the hill to themselves, it took skiers a long time to get used to sharing the mountain with snowboarders. Eventually, this divide would smooth over, and skiers are now just as likely to be in the park as boarders are.
Even between the snowboarders on the east and west coast, there was a bit of a divide. The West coast was more focused on the park, and as they would call it, having “fun” than the racing side on the east coast.
By embracing rebelliousness, snowboarding got a reputation for being cooler. As there was much less of a generational tradition due to it being a new sport, snowboarders also tended to be a much younger crowd.
So, snowboarding was younger, cooler, and ‘more fun’ than skiing, and most people new to snowsports chose to pick up snowboarding in the 90s. This is most likely where the conception that snowboarding is more popular than skiing comes from.
Today, there are extremely few mountains that don’t allow for snowboarding (just 3 at last count). The rivalry between skiers and boarders is all but squashed, and they live in relative harmony on the hill.
For the most part, any disdain for the other group is all in good fun, and you’re more likely to see mixed groups of riders on the hill than pure snowboarders or pure skiers.
Which one should you pick to start?
If you are deciding to try out either snowboarding or skiing, there are pros and cons to each! There’s a common saying that sums the difficulties of each pretty well: “Skiing is easier to learn but harder to master, and snowboarding is harder to learn but easier to master.”
Essentially, your progress will be slower when you begin snowboarding, but you’ll find yourself progressing quicker than with skiing. They’re both wonderful in your own right, so try them both and see which you prefer.
Just don’t let yourself get discouraged too early, no matter which one you prefer. Both sports only get more fun with the more time that you invest in them.