Alpine, Skinny or Snowshoe?

The winter sports trifecta: three days, three sports! Which one should you choose and why?

So many of us think of downhill skiing and snowboarding first when we think of winter sports - and why not? It's a roughly $20 billion industry. It's fast, exciting, shiny, and very expensive.

I grew up in the downhill ("alpine") skiing industry but also have an appreciation for other winter sports, such as cross country and snowshoe. I recently carved out an opportunity to do all THREE of these things back to back (to back), to truly compare and contrast them. How do they rate?

Downhill Skiing

Hilltop beverage break. Downhill skiing, Mt. Hood Meadows Resort, Mt. Hood, Oregon

Ok. Downhill skiing (and snowboarding) are just.... a lot. A lot of flash, a lot of excitement, a lot of cutting edge technology. It's also a lot of money, a lot of work, and honestly, a lot of risk.

First, the excitement. It's just plain COOL. With notably cool personalities like Glenn Plake and Shawn White (among others) representing, epic and ridiculously awesome fashion statements like this and now this, and memorable movies like Hot Dog (yes it was terrible but you can't forget it either), it's just thrilling to be part of it all. And that's not even mentioning the untouchable filmmaker Warren Miller (RIP), whose annual movies each November had us all scrambling to pull out our gear in time for opening day.

In fact, skiing and snowboarding are so cool that, for some people, a lot of it is just being seen. I've actually known too many people that were far more about looking good than actually skiing. But if someone's not too athletically inclined and they want to be near the fun, who could blame them?!? Apres-ski (after ski) happy hour can be the stuff of legends, both here in the U.S. and worldwide!

Technology. I've been in the ski world for a long time (less so these days) and have seen some incredible advancements in the technology of ski equipment. Skis, boots, and snowboards are works of art that are amazingly responsive to a user's movement, and this makes downhill skiing extremely fun.

The money. Daaaaaamn, people spend a lot on this sport! As I said, it's a roughly $20 billion industry. So much to spend money on:

  • Lift tickets. In the U.S., daily lift ticket prices range from $20 (Michigan's Mulligans Hollow) to $199 (Vail in Colorado). Again that's per day, per person!

  • Equipment

  • Clothing

  • Transportation costs

  • Food and drink

  • Parking fees

  • Equipment rentals and/or lessons

  • Lodging

The work. Sorry to be a buzzkill, but it's true. It's a LOT of gear to carry around and keep track of, and it feels like it all weighs twice as much by the end of the day. Especially after a long day of outdoor activity in cold temps, when your body is exhausted. Add in a potentially long, snowy drive both ways, sometimes in inclement weather, in traffic, in the dark, and trust me, you're mentally zapped by the time you crawl into bed.

The risk. Again, I'm the downer here. But it's true! Between the three sports in question, it's definitely the highest risk. The most common downhill ski injury is to the knee - a whopping 43%, according to this recent Vail Injury Study.

DOWNHILL TIP #1: Take a lesson (or two