James "The Arrow" Young is a qualified ski instructor who has spent 10 straight seasons in the Alps. Read his guide to learning the two different sports: skiing and snowboarding.
Nowadays there's no rivalry between skiers and snowboarders. Both sports have evolved massively and everyone's a bit more grown up. In fact, if you're a skier moaning about "those annoying snowboarders messing up the pistes" the chances are you still ski with your feet locked together and refuse to throw away that 1980s fluorescent all-in-one that lurks at the back of your wardrobe.
There are a growing number of people heading to the mountains for their first week's holiday with an open mind about whether to ski or snowboard. My advice is to pick one and stick to it - all week. One of the biggest mistakes beginner or experienced skiers make is missing a day's lesson to hire out a board expecting to pick it up straight away. By doing this you end up losing valuable instruction on your skis and will probably be put off boarding for life. It takes a lot more than a day to learn either sport.
Which sport is easier?
A frequent question people ask is "which will I pick up quicker - skis or snowboard?" The truth is, if you're on skis, taking two hours of lessons per day, you'll be on your feet and getting around most of the mountain's gentle runs after a couple of days. Snowboarding takes a lot more perseverance and patience but once you're up and able to link your turns together (usually around day three), you're going to be looking a lot more experienced than your buddy on skis who will still be snow-ploughing around the piste. It takes a lot longer to get to a high standard of skiing; you have twice as many edges to contend with and it's a lot harder to get your knees and upper body in the right positions.
That said, I've taught 12-year-olds with absolutely no sense of fear or frustration who are flying down black runs by the end of the week using half-decent parallel turns. Likewise anyone who's spent a number of years on a skate or surfboard is not going to have much difficulty picking up snowboarding.
When it comes to the issue of booking lessons, try and organise them before you arrive - this cuts out a lot of aggravation once in the resort and you should be able to get the times you want instead of fitting in around the ski school. I only mention this, as lesson times are so important when you're a beginner. Heading off up the mountain on a pair of skis with no tuition is extremely dangerous so if you can, book your ski lessons as early as possible to learn the essential safety tips (i.e. stopping) and are able to use the beginner lifts to practice all afternoon. If you have experienced skiers with you and they try to persuade you to head off on a more difficult run, ignore them - they're idiots who cause more accidents and ruin more people's holidays than anything else on the slopes.
Snowboard lessons are completely different. The first hour will consist of your extremely patient instructor helping you up while you get used to the board being on your feet. I'd suggest booking your lessons in the afternoon and spend the morning walking up a gentle slope, strapping in and getting to grips with standing up and sliding down. You're going to get a sore bum but, unlike skiing, you're not going to risk legs, ankles and knees going in various directions and injuring yourself. By the time your lesson starts (and after swallowing a considerable amount of Ibuprofen) you can get straight to the interesting stuff.
Snowboard gear needs to be baggy for practical reasons as well as looking cool. You're constantly bending down strapping and un-strapping your back boot in and your body does need to move around a lot more than when you are on skis. Skiing attire has always been a bit more rigid but that comes from instructors needing to be able to demonstrate the right stance. These days, skiers tend to wear exactly the same kit as boarders (because lets face it, they do look a lot cooler.)
One thing in common
For two sports that, technique wise, can seem poles apart, they both have one essential thing in common: you need to bend your knees. I know it's a cliché that you'll hear shouted in various different accents as you career out of control towards an unsuspecting group of children, but it's essential for linking your turns.
A little bit of Dutch courage always helps too, a nip of brandy from the hipflask can work wonders on those nerves!
Previous article: Ski lessons: Group or private?