Why is snowboarding more popular than skiing? Powder Rivalry

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If you know anything about the winter sports community, you know the friendly rivalry between skiers and snowboarders. In general, skiing has a reputation for being more technical, while snowboarding is considered “cooler”. Is it true, is snowboarding really more popular than skiing?

No. Snowboarding, in numbers, is no more popular than skiing! There are far more skiers than snowboarders.

ski and snowboard clothing

There are approximately 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 today, let’s look at the history of each sport.

History of skiing

austrian national library

Skiing is significantly older than snowboarding. It is believed that the first skiers were the Samior the indigenous peoples of Scandinavia.

They used skis between the years 8000 and 6000 BC, most likely as a means of transport and for hunting. We know that people skied in those days from cave paintings and ancient ski fragments.

The skis back then were nothing like the skis we have now. They were shorter, wider and made of wood; they looked more like snowshoes than the skis we know now.

In 1200 AD there is the first evidence of the use of skis in warfare, which continued through WWI and WWII. Although the first documented use of recreational skiing dates back to 1841 and the first race was held in 1861, many credit World War I and World War II veterans to popularize the sport.

See also The real difference between ski and snowboard clothing

In any event, the very first chair lift started in Sun Valley, Idaho in 1936 (though not the oldest ski resort). Alpine skiing was introduced to the Olympic Games that same year.

Nordic skiing has been a part of the Olympics since the very first Winter Olympics in 1924. Freestyle skiing won’t be part of the professional world scene until 1988. We have a full article on the history of skiing if you want more know more .

History of snowboarding

Snowboarders 2
Photo by Rob Lee under CC BY-ND 2.0

The first modern cousin of snowboarding originated in the mid-1960s and was invented by Sherman Poppen. It was called the Snurfer because it had no bindings and looked more like a surfboard than the snowboards we have today.

Snurfers had no brakes or leashes, which meant that if a rider lost control of the board, it would hurtle downhill at breakneck speeds, leading to the invention of the Winterstick in 1972. It had steel edges and nylon webbing, 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 recognized as a pioneer in snowboarding, who worked tirelessly to improve the technology behind snowboards and to win acceptance in ski resorts.

Snowboard had a reputation for being dangerous and surfers were seen as unruly and disrespectful. Therefore, most ski resorts had banned snowboarding in the 1980s in the United States.

But snowboarders have still carved out a place for themselves. HBO documentary Dear Rider covers exactly how snowboarding went from a pariah sport to one of the most watched Olympic events.

See also How difficult is it to learn to snowboard? HONEST Truth

Even though snowboarding was allowed at most resorts in the 1990s, a huge rivalry was brewing. It wasn’t just because of the different methods of gliding on snow, it was a completely different cultural approach to winter sports.

Now there are only 3 resorts in the US that ban surfers.

Skiing and Snowboarding Rivalry

Red Bull Competition
Photo by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland under CC BY-ND 2.0

Because snowboarders have been met with such reluctance by the skiing community, snowboarding has earned a reputation for rebellion. Particularly on the east coast, skiing was a fairly serious sport, focused on technique and racing.

Snowboarding made its first real debut in the West Coast surfing and skateboarding community. It was a crowd that was much more party-centric than skiing, and generally more jump-focused than speed-focused.

Even down to their style of dress on the slope, skiers and snowboarders differed greatly. Skiers opted for functional, water-resistant clothing, while snowboarders were more likely to wear loose, street-style clothing on the slope. Learn about the history of the ski style over the past 100 years.

Skiers would claim that snowboarding not only posed a danger to other people on the slope, but that it would ruin the snow for them. Because snowboards are so much bigger than skis, they leave big ruts in the powder.

So used to having the slope to themselves, it took the skiers a long time to get used to sharing the mountain with the snowboarders. Eventually, that divide would fade, and skiers are now just as likely to be in the park as snowboarders.

snowboard lesson 1

Even between East Coast and West Coast snowboarders, 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 race side on the east coast.

See also Why do American skiers and snowboarders wear an arm out of their competition vest at the Olympics?

By embracing rebellion, snowboarding earned a reputation for being cooler. As there was much less generational lore 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 newcomers to winter sports chose to get into snowboarding in the 90s. that comes the conception that snowboarding is more popular than skiing.

relationship today

Today there are extremely few mountains that do not allow snowboarding (only 3 at last count). The rivalry between skiers and snowboarders is almost crushed and they live in relative harmony on the hill.

For the most part, any disregard for the other group is fun, and you’re more likely to see mixed groups of riders on the hill than pure snowboarders or pure skiers.

Which to choose to start with?

Skiing and Snowboarding
Photo by Ritten_Renon under license CC BY-ND 2.0

If you decide to try snowboarding or skiing, there are pros and cons to each! There is a common saying that pretty much sums up everyone’s struggles: “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 start snowboarding, but you’ll find yourself progressing faster than skiing. They are both wonderful on their own, so give them both a try and see which one you prefer.

Don’t be discouraged too soon, whichever one you prefer. Both sports only become more fun with the time you invest in them.

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