The results are in, and the fact is that snowboarding is safer than skiing. An analysis by Professor Jasper Shealy of the Rochester Institute of Technology shows 0.75 deaths for every 1 million skiers visits, versus 0.47 deaths per million snowboarder visits. While both of these death rates are very low, snowboarding does have a lower risk of mortality.
I ski alot more than I snowboard. I'm blessed with two legs and two feet, and it seems natural to use them independently. But there are times when snowboarding beats all. If you are a good skier, skiing at small ski areas can get a little dull. You go up, you go down. And the going up part takes much longer than going down, which is why you went up in the first place. So unless you're a fan of hypothermia, it's fun to learn to snowboard.
Also, places like Lake Tahoe, California tend to get very wet snow. Skiing through deep, wet snow is miserable and humiliating for us mere mortals, because a promising start generally ends in a face plant. On a snowboard, all of your weight and energy are focused on one edge of the board, so it's much easier to cut through wet snow or crud.
Ready to ride? Here are some tips for first-timers.
There are basically four different styles of riding a snowboard. The one you prefer will determine the type of equipment you need:
You may have heard about riding 'regular' or 'goofy.' Regular foot riders stand with their left foot forward on the board, while goofy foot riders stand with their right foot forward.
If you skateboard, surf or wakeboard, you probably know what your stance is. If not, have someone push you lightly from behind. Whichever foot you put out first to balance yourself is probably the foot you should have in front.
Now that you've selected your riding style, it's time to pick your snowboard. Most snowboards are made of a wooden core wrapped in fiberglass and coated in a fiberglass or plastic cap with metal edges. Snowboard performance is influenced by the combination of materials used, the shape of the board, and it's length, weight and stiffness.
Technical freestyle boards have twin tips, with identical, blunt tip and tail shapes for riding forward or backward. Freestyle boards are usually directional in shape, with a longer tip for better flotation in the snow and a stiffer tail for more power.
Freeride boards (sometimes known as all-mountain boards) are very versatile models, and usually have a directional shape with varying flex. This is a good choice for a board to learn on. Freecarving boards tend to be the stiffest and narrowest. The nose (front) of the board is curved while the tail (back) is flat. While stable at high speeds, these boards generally aren't for doing tricks or all-around riding.
Make sure your boots are compatible with your board and bindings. Most snowboard boots are "soft" boots, because they are made of softer materials such as waterproof leather and nylon. The support usually comes from the rigid structure of the back of the bindings that you strap the boots into. However, some of the newer, step-in bindings have more support built into the boot.
Freecarve/alpine boots are "hard" boots that resemble ski boots and have more rigid, plastic shells. Hard boots are used with plate bindings.
Snowboard boots generally use traditional shoe sizes and/or "mondo point," which is the length of the boot in centimeters.
Unlike ski bindings, snowboard bindings are designed not to release when you fall. Make sure that your bindings are compatible with your board and boots and the style of riding you plan to do. Technical freestylers generally use a low-back binding with two straps for increased flexibility and range of motion. Freestyle and freeride snowboarders usually use a high-back binding with two straps for more support. Freecarve/alpine riders use a plate binding.
All snowboard bindings are adjustable, allowing you to change the position in which you stand on the board. Freestyle snowboarders usually have a wider stance with their feet pointing more directly across the board, while freecarvers have narrower stances with their feet pointed more towards the front. Freeriders are somewhere in the middle.
Your style is what you make it, but I can offer three words of advice. Don't wear jeans. You will be spending time on your butt, your jeans will get wet and you will get cold. As your skin turns as blue as your jeans and you are carted off to the ER, your friends will say "I told you not to wear blue jeans." In a deranged, hypothermic state, you won't be able to mouth your favorite expletive.
On your feet, wear one pair of medium weight or light weight socks. The fit should be snug, and your heel should remain in place when you bend your knee and ankle forward. Avoid cotton socks (and any other clothing made of cotton), because cotton holds moisture and moisture drains warmth from your body.
Most snowboard clothing is designed to fit looser than ski wear, giving more freedom of movement. Also, many snowboard pants are reinforced in the seat and knees for extra protection when kneeling or sitting on the snow.
First-timers should take a lesson from a qualified snowboard instructor. It's the quickest way to learn and will save you some bumps and bruises. When you get to the resort, head for the snowboard school where you will find information about programs and lessons.
Once you learn the basics of sliding on the board's edge and making the turn, you will probably find yourself getting very comfortable on the board. After a few days, you will be riding the entire mountain. Then the fun really begins.