“Before, you were either a skier or a boarder. Now people do both,” said Greg Ditrinco, editor of SKI Magazine. “It’s a new phenomenon.”
The crossover is being led primarily by snowboarders who are finding they can do more with two boards on their feet than one. Skis allow for more tricks in the pipes, and for more accessibility in the backcountry, where flat terrain is a boarder’s nemesis.
“There are a lot of people going back to skiing because skiing has become fun again,” said Abigail Slingsby, who teaches both boarding and skiing for the Steamboat Ski Snowboard School in Colorado.
That fun factor comes from the technological advances in today’s skis, many of which, ironically, were borrowed from the snowboard.
Boarding started gaining popularity about three decades ago, but many thought it didn’t belong on the ski hill. Boarders were considered rebellious. Skiers were accused of being elitist.
As time passed, snowboarding earned legitimacy and acceptance. It became an Olympic sport in 1998, and today, only three of the 325 most popular resorts nationwide ban snowboarding: Deer Valley and Alta in Utah and Mad River Glen in Vermont. “Those in the industry really view the turf wars as over,” said Ditrinco. “If you talk to the kids, they say: ‘Ya, we ski, we board, we hang out together.'”
While the younger generation tends to be more welcoming, some older skiers still have a hard time with boarders.
“It’s not as bad as 10 years ago, but there are still awful stereotypes,” said Slingsby, 39, who previously taught at the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort in British Columbia.
Graham Potter, 25, agreed. He spent more than 100 days each of the past two winters on the snow at California’s Mammoth Mountain before moving to Steamboat. He said his behavior is the same regardless of how he’s getting down the hill, but it seems to attract more attention when he’s on a snowboard.
“I ski obnoxiously fast, weave in and out of people, and hit as many obstacles as I can,” he said. “But there is definitely still a stigma when you’re on a board.”
Despite the bias, Slingsby said she is increasingly finding that her students crossover in their winter sports. “There’s always a group that does both,” she said.
The statistics support her. Industry groups estimate there were 7.4 million to 11.5 million skiers in 2010, with a quarter of them also snowboarding at least once that year. Similarly, about a third of the 6.1 million to 8.1 million snowboarders also skied at least once.
There are regional differences in winter sports, said Ditrinco, with boarding more popular in California and skiing more popular in the East.
Slingsby said a lot of her younger students who started off snowboarding try skiing because they want to vary their equipment to suit the terrain. Older skiers, meanwhile, want to learn to board because, “After you learn to do it properly it’s gentler on your body,” she said.
Potter, who grew up skiing in North Carolina before switching to boarding as a teenager, found once he became an expert snowboarder, it wasn’t challenging enough.
“Skiing is more technical. It is something you can work on your whole life and never feel like you’ve mastered,” he said. “Once you’re good on a snowboard you’re good. There’s a whole park element that’s fun. But as I get older, I find myself less and less in the park. “
Like many people, Potter is increasingly drawn to the backcountry, a trend that Ditrinco said has been “exploding” over the past few years as resorts have loosened restrictions on going out of bounds.
Because Potter still boards about three-quarters of the time, he just purchased a splitboard, which can be separated into two boards for hiking uphill, then combined into one for boarding down off piste.
Despite a dozen years of experience and dual instructor certifications, Slingsby said switching between skiing and boarding isn’t an easy thing.
“I think crossing over is a humbling experience. You’re good at a sport and then you go to the other one and the bunny hill is really scary again,” she said. “It’s humbling and it’s fun.”