24 January 2022

To ski or to snowboard? Which makes you fitter?

December 9, 2015

With the 2015/16 season fast approaching now is a great time to take a look at one of the most heated winter sport debates that’s been raging for nearly 50 years; to ski or to board?


Winter sport specialists Neilson Holidays are bringing this hot topic to the fore with the launch of their new Ski vs Board campaign, fronted by two of the UK’s most successful snowsports athletes.

Katie Summerhayes, Team GB freestyle skier and Suzuki Nine Queens winner argues: “Skiers will always come out on top because skiing just looks better when you get it right. When skiers land switch (backwards), it looks way more impressive than anything a boarder can do. Also, snowboarders are really lazy, they just sit down on the slopes all the time!”


Jamie Nicholls, Team GB Snowboarder, (who recently pulled off this epic stunt) couldn’t disagree more: “Katie may think skiers have the edge but she’s completely wrong, snowboarders have far more style on jumps and rails, and when they fall to the floor they don’t explode into a million pieces and cry about it like skiers do.

Katie and Jamie battle out which sport wins in their Ski vs Board video, however whilst après fashion, cool tricks and ski lift etiquette may be the deal breakers for many, thinking about it purely from a fitness perspective, is skiing or snowboarding more or less physically demanding than the other?

Winter sport expert Paul Deadman chairs the debate:

Core strength

Skiers primarily need strong core muscles. Personal trainers will often focus on the TVA (transverse abdominal muscles) as the most important part of your core strength and these muscles are key in helping you stabilise your spine and pelvis. Skiers who aren’t very strong in these muscles can easily be spotted on the slope due to their flailing arms and frequent stacks.

Snowboarding is an asymmetrical sport with riders placing one leg in front of the other when they mount the board. With legs facing one way, and heads turned to look down the mountain, it’s crucial for snowboarders to have strong rotational control of their trunk. The lower torso is where most imbalances occur as the lower abs are not really used and this can result in lower back problems. Boarders can avoid this by keeping their pelvis tilted forward and core muscles actively engaged.


The Legs

Skiing relies heavily on the lateral muscles of your lower leg as they are used every time you put your skis on their edges. Hamstrings are also pivotal in skiing as they are in charge of how your knees bend. Extending and flexing your leg helps you absorb impact and your hamstrings play an important part in protecting your knee ligaments, making sure they don’t snap under pressure. Dorsiflexion, where your toes curl up toward your shins is more common in skiing as it keeps your shins pressed into the tongue of your ski boot.

Snowboarders don’t use their quadriceps and hamstrings to control movement, but the lower down you can hold yourself, the better your balance will be on the slopes. Much of a boarder’s control and direction comes from the feet and ankles working to make cuts and turns. Calves are consequently an important muscle for boarders as they control the ankle and they become very strong in advanced boarders.


If you’re a confident skier or snowboarder and aren’t prone to falling over, getting from the top to the bottom should only require you to engage your balancing muscles. The metabolic rating of both downhill boarding and skiing is classed as ‘light to moderate effort’ as your body works quite efficiently when your alignment is correct, and burns between 293 – 361 calories an hour.

Falling over

The more you fall over the more energy you need to pick yourself up. Of course everyone learns at a different pace, but in general, snowboarders fall over more when they’re learning – this is something boarders should get used to though as they have to sit to strap on their board before every run and consequently have to lift themselves off the ground over and over again, a great workout for the abs and arm muscles and something skiers don’t need to do. So, perhaps for the wrong reasons, snowboarders can claim this as a fitness win!

The Flat

Snowboarders are more likely to unstrap and walk flat areas of piste, whereas skiers can cross ski, an excellent upper body cardiovascular exercise. This exercise is even more vigorous if you’re kind enough to let a stranded boarder hold on to your pole as you pull them along.

Off the snow

With similar techniques to skateboarding and surfing, snowboarders can hone their skills and muscle groups all year round through a variety of sports, whereas skiers have to rely on squat routines and strengthening exercises in the gym.

The Women’s Sports Magazine

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