What to Expect If You’re a Skater Looking to Start Snowboarding

Ready to take those board skills from the streets to the steeps? Read on to find out how skateboarding translates to snowboarding and how to choose the right board!

A skateboarder grabbing his board in a skate park.

Photo by Josh Hild

I get it — skate or die! Forget the snow! You certainly can’t skate in it. Or can you? Now, imagine a skatepark that spanned thousands of acres. Picture tilting the park up at an angle and replacing the concrete with several feet of snow, and this is what a “spot” may look like for a snowboarder.

For me, it was a natural progression from skateboarding to snowboarding. Growing up in a small ski town in northwest Montana, I have been skiing since the earliest time I can remember. As young kids, my friends and I became enthralled with punk music and skateboarding. By the second grade, we had our hands on skateboards and had started a punk band called “Penicillin.”

After a couple of years of splitting up the seasons with skiing and skating, I realized something just wasn’t right. Honestly, being a skier clashed with my role as the frontman of a skate rat punk band. Taking the trucks off our skates and bombing down the snow-covered driveway was fun and all, but it left me wanting more. Thankfully, I was able to convince my parents to get me a snowboard for my tenth birthday, and after that, I was riding a board year-round.

The Learning Curve (With Skate Skills vs. Without)

A snowboarder hitting a rail feature in a terrain park.

Advantages

Being a skater who is new to snowboarding, you will have a pretty clear advantage when navigating that learning curve. The better skater you are, the easier it will ultimately be to learn the snowboarding basics and the more likely you are to excel in this new snow-laden environment. The balance, body mechanics, and basic concept of riding sideways on a board are not things that all beginner snowboarders are going to possess. This puts someone who skateboards regularly at a major advantage. The transferring of body weight from side to side, your general stance, the flexion and extension of the knees, and the use of the upper body for balance are all relatively similar.

Doing an ollie or popping will come easier and any tricks or freestyle maneuvers are going to be much more attainable, much quicker compared to most people. Even the simple acts of turning, and eventually carving, will just feel more natural than to the average newbie. And of course, you’re on snow, which is typically soft, unlike pavement.

Disadvantages

The skill transfer between these two board sports is certainly massive, but these transitions aren’t always exactly seamless either. Just the difference in the environment is a challenge all unto itself. Most likely, starting off at a ski resort on your first day you will already be in a mountain environment where weather conditions can be extremely variable. A warm jacket, snow pants, gloves, goggles, and boots are pretty much going to be the new norm and can take a bit of getting used to.

The obvious differences in the gear and equipment present some inherent challenges. The most notable may be that on a snowboard you are attached to the board with bindings. Being attached to the snowboard helps greatly with maneuverability and stability, especially at higher speeds. This can seem a bit off at first for skaters since bailing isn’t really possible, but there are good techniques for ways of falling to avoid heavy crashes.

A snowboard’s edge is what’s used for turning and managing speed, which can take a bit of getting used to. Snowboards are much larger, and even though you have a similar shoulder-width stance, you are much more centered on the board. Beginners taking lessons are instructed to be heavy on their front feet when initiating turns. This can be very counterintuitive to a skater, but it is the recommended way of learning to turn and manage speed. As riders advance, the back leg is typically where your control lies.

Expect plenty of little falls and some sore muscles those first few times on the slope. The wrists and butt cheeks usually take the brunt of the impact when a new rider is just learning to cruise. The wallet may also be feeling the impact as the costs associated with snowboarding are much greater than with skating. The gear is more expensive, you need more of it, and typically lift tickets can range from $50–$200 a day, depending on where you go. It is usually much more of a mission to go snowboarding and not nearly as simple as dropping by the skatepark for a couple-hour session.

Other Benefits

Once the basics are learned, the potential size and scale of what is approachable on a snowboard versus a skateboard are where the real appeal lies for me. Airs that I could only have dreamt of on a skateboard had become a breeze on snow. Bringing skateboard tricks and style to a much higher speed environment that is much softer and more forgiving only feeds the progression.

Although snow is softer, and a smaller slam doesn't usually hurt as badly on snow, there are many new hazards you will encounter in the mountains. Rocks, trees, and tree wells are all very real dangers up there. The increased speeds that can be reached when riding a snowboard can expose you to potentially heavier impacts, and for that reason, many snowboarders choose to wear a helmet.

It was super apparent as a kid that both skating and snowboarding complemented each other well. Progression in one bled into my progression with the other, and I still believe that skateboarding is one of the best off-season activities to train for snowboarding.

Different Styles of Skating and Snowboarding

A skateboarder jumping in a skate park. There is an ocean in the background.

Transition

Much like in skateboarding, in snowboarding, there are many different avenues or potential disciplines for any given participant. Some skaters will gravitate toward defying gravity, skating more transition, halfpipe, or vert ramps. The skillful ability to judge speed, angles, and trajectory gives these types of skaters the potential for rapid and extensive progression into strong park, halfpipe, and all-mountain riders. Having the air awareness, the muscle memory, and an eye for finding good lines will have you on the fast track to freeride greatness.

Street

More technical street skating requires precise board control, and comparatively, the margin for error on a snowboarder is much more generous. Kickflips or any other flip tricks are obviously off-limits, and although you can’t technically grind, there are plenty of opportunities for slides, bonks, switch tricks, tweaks, or whatever you can come up with really. Bring some of that skate flavor into the snowboard park or once the snow flies hit your local, hillside skate spots.

Cruisers

If you’re already out there surfing the streets, there’s a high probability that you are already a snowboarder or at the least have already tried snowboarding. However, if you are still a virgin to the virgin slopes, there’s a great chance you will fall in love. Enjoy the simple pleasure of riding your cruiser or longboard? Linking turns on fresh groomers or in fresh powder is sure to have you feeling the flow.

How to Choose a Snowboard

A snowboarder heading down a snowy line.

Finding the right snowboard for you may be slightly different from the non-skating adult learners, but the differences are not going to be that severe either. It’s important to remember that the sickest of skaters will still be starting off as beginner snowboarders — they just might not remain beginners for long. You may progress beyond a true beginner board much too quickly to justify buying one. Renting equipment is highly advisable for your first time, your first few times even. Higher-end beginner boards as well as intermediate boards are good places to be looking.

Connecting directly with a Snowboard Expert here on Curated is my number one recommendation for finding a board that best matches your individual needs. You’ll want to discuss your specific skate background with your Snowboard Expert. Your skate history, along with more common details like where you live (or where you’ll be riding), your height, your weight, and your fitness level will be factored in for board recommendations that are uniquely your own.

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Written By
I've spent over thirty years on snow and a decade as a professional rider. Snowboard career highlights include standout video parts with Absinthe Films, 2016 Big Mountain Rider of the Year and two Snowboarder Mag covers. I pretty much grew up on the slopes in Whitefish, Montana and snowboarding has...

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