Enjoy Skiing and Snowboarding at Any Age

Physician's Money Digest, February 2006, Volume 13, Issue 2

There was once a jokeamong skiers: "What doesa snowboarder say when heruns into a skier?" Answer:"Sorry, dude!" In snowboarding'sbeginning years, there was some truthto the stereotype that snowboarderswere all young enthusiasts fresh off theskateboarding scene. But increasingly,that dynamic is changing.

"It's a cultural thing. It took time,but now you see everyone playing together," says Linda Crockett, educationdirector of the American SnowsportsEducation Association (ASEA), whichrepresents both the Professional SkiInstructors of America and the AmericanAssociation of Snowboard Instructors."There's people starting bothsports at all ages, and parents are takingup snowboarding so they can do itwith their kids."

"Snowboarding was viewed as ayounger person's sport," says TerryRowley, president of the National SkiCouncil Federation, which represents23 of the largest ski councils in theUnited States and over a third of a millionsnowsport enthusiasts. "It startedout that way, but currently there are alot of people in their 40s, 50s, andeven 60s snowboarding."

While snowsport participants mayhave their preferences and prejudicesabout skiing vs snowboarding, thewinter sports industry itself knowsboth sports are good for business. Notonly do skiing and snowboardingkeep the industryalive, each sport offers health benefitsand gets people involved in a positiveactivity, Rowley says. In fact, theNational Ski Areas Association (NSAA)estimates that last winter was thefourth best season on record for skiersand snowboarders, with 56.9 millionvisits to US ski resorts during the2004-2005 season.

Though snowboarding attracts peopleof all ages, it is the young who aredriving much of the growth. Of participantsunder age 24, 77% snowboardand 39% ski, according to the NSAA.In fact, the National Sporting GoodsAssociation reports that participantsage 7 to 17 accounted for 6.5 millionsnowboarders in 2004—an increase of219% from 10 years earlier. Skiing,however, experienced a 44% drop, with10.6 million skiers in 1994 and only 5.9million in 2004. Despite these changes,Crockett maintains that snowboardingis not overtaking skiing in popularity."For a few years, young people weremostly taking up snowboarding, butnow they are taking up both sports," Crockett says.

Interested in trying out one, theother, or both? Here are some similaritiesand differences.

•Conditions. Snowboarding canbe easier than skiing in certain conditions,such as maneuvering throughtrees or handling deep snow. Accordingto Rowley, snowboarding also givesyou the opportunity to carve turns forsheer fun—that's snowboard-speak forturning the board with its edge passingthrough the same point in the snow andwith a minimum of skidding.

•Learning curve. "I have heardconsistently that snowboarding tendsto be a little more difficult to pick upinitially," Rowley says. It could take 2to 3 days of continuous lessons in thebeginning. "Skiing, on the other hand,is easier to learn in the beginning, buttakes longer overall to master."Crockett agrees, "With snowboarding,you really have to learn your edges." Both mention that with snowboarding,when you catch a downhill edge, youwill fall hard, called a slam. "It's a prettystartling thing," Crockett says, "andlearning about edges to avoid slammingis helpful."

•Equipment. Snowboarding gear isa bit simpler than ski equipment. Thereare no poles, the bindings are less complex(since they don't have to release),and boots can be softer. Most snowboardersprefer soft boots with strapbindings. For both sports, Crockett andRowley emphasize the importance of agood fit. "Finding the right boots that fitcorrectly is imperative," Rowley says."Boots are such a key piece of equipment," Crockett echoes. "They reallymake a difference."

•Clothing. The style differencesbetween the two sports are more aboutfashion than performance. "There'sdefinitely a ski look and snowboardlook, but they're not as far apart asthey used to be," Crockett says.Snowboarding beckons more of a"street" look, with looser garb andmore subtle colors, whereas skiweartends to be a bit brighter, according toRowley. Despite outside appearances,both have the same performance requirements.The ASEA recommendslightweight layers of high-performancesynthetic fabrics including three components:an inner moisture-wickinglayer, a middle insulating layer, and anouter shell layer. Avoid natural fiberslike cotton or wool, which retain moistureonce they're wet.

•Price. Funding your ski or snowboardinghobby will cost you about thesame, but ultimately depends on yourgoals and skill level. "It's a matter ofhow much you want to put into it. Youcan spend hundreds on equipment," Rowley says. He also says the irony oflearning to ski or snowboard is thatpeople don't invest in high-quality, moreexpensive equipment until later, whenthey have more skills. Yet cheaper qualityequipment tends to hinder a participant'slearning process. "It's unfortunate,but that seems to be the way itworks," Rowley says.

Looking to try out either sport withouta sizable investment? Rental equipment,whose quality Crockett says isgetting better, is a low-cost option forbeginners. She also mentions thatsnowboards with less-angled edges canmake a first outing a bit easier. Anotherway to save money is by joining a localsnowsports club, most of which offerdiscount opportunities through lowcosttrips or partnerships with merchandisers.These clubs are also a greatway for beginners to meet people attheir skill level and for everyone toenjoy camaraderie.

•Fun. There seems to be no generalrule that it's easier to learn one sportand then go on to the other, so pickwhichever suits your fancy first. "Skiingand snowboarding movements are different," Crockett says. "It's fun to gofrom one to the other and experiencethe mountain differently." No matterwhich sport you choose, "It's all abouthaving a good time," Rowley confirms.

For more information on the NationalSki Council Federation, includingregional clubs and an interactive map,visit www.skifederation.org. Also checkout the American Association ofSnowboard Instructors (www. aasi.org)and the Professional Ski Instructors ofAmerica (www.psia.org) for more informationon either sport.