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Snowboarder or Skier; the Blurring of the Line.


There was a very long time, in the dim and distant past, when skiing was the main sport people enjoyed on the slopes. Skiing dates back in various forms to 8000BC, but the sport began its ascent into mainstream popularity at the turn of the twentieth century when the first package holidays hit the market. It was in 1903 that Sir Henry Lunn took a group of skiers to the Swiss resort of Adelboden, and from there skiing has grown enormously in popularity.


For years, skiers enjoyed free reign and the only way to enjoy the pistes was on two planks. Snowboarding is a far younger pursuit and although the first board dates back to 1929, when M.J. Burchett roped his feet to a long piece of plywood, it wasn’t until the mid sixties that the snowboards we know today began to take shape, with the development of Sherman Poppen’s Snurfer. The design was very much influenced by surfing, with early practitioners keen to capture the same feeling of flotation they could achieve on the water.


Exchanging technologies and styles


From equipment and clothing to attitude and behaviour, skiers and snowboarders have taken the best of each other’s sports to improve their own, and the results are tangible. For example, early snowboard manufacturers studied the sharp metal edges on skis and gave thought to the extra control they could bring to the art of snowboarding.


Image courtesy of Michael Overbeck on Flickr


Ski manufacturers in turn noted the raised top and tail of snowboard design and began creating ‘twin tipped’ skis, making it possible to land jumps in reverse and ski backwards. They also observed the way snowboards bounce over fresh snow off-piste, and began constructing straighter skis with far wider bases which float in a similar manner to snowboards in the powder.


In skiwear too, similar changes took place following the arrival of snowboarding and those ‘onesie’ ski outfits so prevalent in the eighties and nineties (think Price Charles in Klosters) gave way to the baggier, looser styles favoured by snowboarders. Today, the loose-fitting salopettes and jackets and ‘tall tees’ worn by young skiers and snowboarders on the slopes are markedly similar!


Freeride snowboarders and skiers


Freeride skiers and boarders are all about the back country. For them, flying down a steep and open mountainside of light, fluffy, fresh powder is the ultimate mountain high. With tree runs, cliff drops and natural jumps all readily available in off-piste terrain, freeriders are in their element carving new tracks through fresh snow, their bindings set way back in order to keep the tips above the snow.


Snowboarders use long, broad boards with their leading foot angled out for controlled turns in deep snow, whilst their fellow skiers ride fatter skis with the aim of maintaining float and balance at speed in the steep and deep. Freeriding is about ‘all-mountain’ skiing and boarding – being ready to anything the mountain throws your way. Freeriders maintain sharp edges at all times, to carve through everything from deep powder to sheet ice effectively.


Freestyle snowboarders and skiers


Freestylers are a different breed entirely - for them, the biggest buzz of skiing and boarding is found in the terrain park. Rails, boxes and hips are their playthings, and no feeling comes close to the buzz of landing your first 720 ° spin off a huge kicker.


Image courtesy of Tamwood International on Flickr


For freestyle snowboarders the stance is very loose, to avoid injury in case of falls. Legs are set far apart for balance and both feet typically angled outwards to allow regular as well as ‘switch’ riding with greater ease. Boards are shorter and boots softer, allowing for greater flex and making them ideally suited to the park environment. Skis are typically twin-tipped for easy spins, and to allow reverse landings. Freestyler skiers and boarders often file their edges down a little – blunter edges prevent the skis or board from slowing too much when attacking jumps and are less likely to catch the ground badly when landing.


With techniques advancing and technologies being shared for mutual benefit, skiers and snowboarders are closer now than ever before. Where once the slopes were enjoyed by two very different tribes, these days skiers and boarders enjoy the mountains together with comparatively few clashes of interest. Both parties are called upon to show care and consideration to each other on the mountain, and a mutual respect has grown between the two sports which reinforces our collective enjoyment of the time we share on the snow.