Water Skiing Vs. Snow Skiing: Which Is Harder?

Water Skiing Vs. Snow Skiing

Snow skiing is a recreational and competitive sport that consists of gliding over snow using a pair of long, flat boards called skis, which are attached to boots.

This sport is a prehistoric activity, with the oldest known skis discovered in Russia between 8000 and 7000 BCE. Furthermore, early skis have also been found in many areas in Europe, and some written references mention skiing in northern China during the Han Dynasty.

Many people who lived in snowy climates then developed some form of skiing to use as transportation and for hunting. Skiing has also been used for military purposes and continued into the 20th century. Skiing both as a sport and recreational activity became popular worldwide in the 1950s thanks to the television coverage of skiing events.

On the other hand, water skiing was invented by Ralph Samuelson in 1922. Samuelson used a pair of boards as his skis and a clothesline as his tow rope. He was towed by his brother, with whom he experimented for several days until Ralph discovered how to successfully water ski. He then innovated and successfully spent over 15 years performing ski shows and teaching people how to ski. Samuelson became the world’s first water ski jumper. In 1925, Fred Waller of New York patented the first water skis and was credited as the inventor of the sport since Samuelson never patented any of his equipment. However, clippings in Samuelson’s scrapbook and files on the Minnesota Historical Society were beyond debate. Therefore, in February 1966, the AWSA officially recognized Samuelson as the “father of waterskiing.”

Both water skiing and snow skiing are extremely fun and good workouts, and they share the same basic techniques of gliding over snow or water using skis. However, water skiing is much harder and more physically demanding as you have to learn to balance over the water while not letting gravity pull you down to crash. Furthermore, you are unable to control your speed since you are getting towed by a boat. As for snow skiing, you learn on the snowy ground while letting gravity glide down the snowy terrain, and you can control your speed and stop.

Read along to find out what makes water skiing different from snow skiing, and what makes one harder to learn than the other.


Water Skiing


  1. Skis

    • It is the equipment you need the most.
    • For beginners, start with combo skis as they are wide in front and have a large surface area, making them more stable.
    • Buy the best skis you can afford so they will last even if you advance, and they can come in handy if you want to teach your family and friends.
    • Pick the size of the ski based on your body weight and athletic ability.
    • You may also want to choose a longer ski because it is slower and more stable.
    • When you advance, you may choose from any of these three:
    • Slalom skis:
      – Those have wider tails and flat bottoms.
      – High-performing models have concave bottoms, narrow and tapered tails, and highly beveled edges.
      – They are designed for sharp turns and faster speeds.
    • Trick Skis:
      – Those are shorter.
      – They are more maneuverable.
      – They are made for performing stunts.
    • Jump Skis:
      – Those are longer and wider.
      – They are made for skiing or jumping over a ramp.
  1. Bindings

    • It is important to keep your feet secured to the skis.
    • Choose comfortable and supportive bindings.
    • Adjustable bindings are best for skis that are going to be used by many other skiers
    • If you have a personal pair of skis, it’s best to have custom bindings that can provide more support as it is tailored to your foot size.
  1. Tow Rope/Water Ski Rope

    • It is essential to keep the skier connected to the boat.
    • The standard length is 70-75 feet, including the handle.
    • A rope should be one-quarter-inch diamond braid polyethylene or polypropylene and with a breaking strength greater than 800 lbs.
    • They are made from polypropylene that can stretch up to 2 to 3 percent of its length in normal conditions.
    • These ropes have a slight elasticity that provides ‘give’ when the skier changes speed and goes from one turn to another.
    • This ‘rope give’ can absorb shock when the skier goes side-to-side and cuts through the boat wake.
  1. Life Jacket or PFD

    • It is a very important safety gear for water skiers.
    • Whether you can swim or not, a life jacket is still recommended.
    • It should fit securely and snug and will not fall off easily when traveling at high speeds.
    • Choose a life vest that will allow for freedom of movement.
    • A type III PFD is lightweight and comfortable to wear for extended periods. That is why it is usually used for water skiing.
  1. Gloves

    • Those are optional but can be helpful.
    • Competitive skiers wear gloves to help them grip the tow rope’s handle.
    • Wearing gloves can help prevent the skier from losing control of the rope, and thus, fall.
  1. Boat

    • It is important to be able to have something to tow the skier.
    • In competitions, a tow boat with short, flat bottoms is specifically used to decrease the waves that it produces behind.
    • Boats for water skiing have higher horsepower engines and are allowed to travel between 13 to 118 mph in competitions.
    • Boats that are not used for competitions vary. Those do not need high horsepower engines and are only allowed to travel around 20 to 25 mph for adult skiers, and 15 to 20 mph for younger skiers.
    • Make sure the boat you use is safe and driven by someone with a valid boating license.

How it works

  1. While submerged in water, get into a cannonball position.
  2. Let the skis float in front of you while the rope is dangling between the skis.
  3. If you are ready, signal the driver to start the boat.
  4. While you are slowly being pulled out of the water, change into a chair position.
  5. Let the boat do the work.
  6. Do not tug on the handle and do not force yourself up as you will lose your balance.
  7. Stay in the chair position.
  8. Once you are comfortable, put your hips underneath your shoulders.
  9. Keep your arms straight and your ankles and knees bent.
  10. Look straight ahead.
  11. Bring a bit of downward force on the handle.
  12. Avoid pulling yourself forward with the rope.
  13. Avoid straightening your knees.


If you don’t want to fall face first in the water when you’re water skiing, then you need to know how to maintain a proper stance. In order to do this, the first question that you need to ask is: which foot should be forward for water skiing? Read our article to find out. 


Snow Skiing


  1. Ski Clothing

    • Proper clothing is essential for dealing with below-freezing temperatures, wind, and snow.
    • You need three layers of clothing, which includes your base layers, mid-layers, and shells so when it gets warmer, you can just remove a layer to avoid overheating.
    • Ski socks are also essential to keep your toes warm.
    • Ski mittens or gloves, balaclavas, and neck gaiters are crucial to keep your extremities warm.
  1. Ski Helmet

    • This is an essential piece of safety equipment that can also protect your ears against frostbite.
  1. Ski Goggles

    • Goggles are important to keep your peripheral vision uninterrupted.
    • They are also used to increase the contrast on snow if the sun is bright or if it is clouded, and to protect your eyes from the reflection of the sun on the snow.
  1. Skis, Boots, and Poles

    • If you are a beginner, you do not need to buy your own skis, boots, and poles. We recommend you rent them first at the ski resort.
    • After your first few sessions and if you are really interested in snow skiing, then it is up to you to buy your own gear.
  1. Backpack

    • A backpack comes in handy for storing additional layers in case it gets really cold, or for taking them off when it gets warmer.
    • This will also give you the option of taking some snacks and water up the mountain.
    • To give you more ideas on what to bring on a ski trip, read our guide

If you’re looking to purchase your first ski equipment, check out the “Skiing Gear” tab of our website to find our top skiing gear recommendations. From head to toe, we have the skiing gear that you’re looking for. 

How it works

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Flex your ankles.
  3. Tilt your shins forward.
  4. Your shoulders should slightly be in front of your hips and your weight centered over both feet.
  5. Your arms should slightly be out in front and off to your side.
  6. Hold your poles. The tips should be pointed back, behind your feet.
  7. Look in the direction where you’re going and not down at your skis.
  8. Push yourself using your ski poles.
  9. Flex your ankles and keep your shins tilted forward.
  10. Your weight should be centered over your feet as you move with the skis.
  11. To glide down gently, point your skis downhill, and then push yourself using your poles.
  12. Glide to a natural stop.
  13. Practice on small slopes or inclines and over short distances.


Skiing can be a fairly dangerous activity, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. First time skiers should familiarize themselves with the basic moves of the sport to avoid sustaining any injuries. Check out our guide on learning how to ski as a beginner to know more about this activity.  


Differences between water and snow skiing

Water Skiing Snow Skiing
Acceleration The major source of acceleration comes from the boat and the shifting of the skier’s body weight. The skier controls the acceleration, shift of body weight, and steering from gravity and the incline of the terrain of slope
Speed Control Because the main source of speed is the boat, you cannot control it. Thus, if the boat is travelling at 30mph, your speed is also 30mph. With your feet on the snowy ground, you have complete control over your speed and can maintain the same speed all the way down.
Turning You try to capitalize on the constant speed of the boat by converting it into lateral acceleration toward the wake and by using the skis edge to steer. The momentum you’ve created is the force you need to lose to make a turn. You steer by using your feet, legs, and possibly your ski poles.


Does water skiing hurt?

Yes, water skiing can hurt if you crash and are not wearing any protective equipment. Statistics show that 1 out of 3 injuries occurs in the lower extremities, and that in slalom skiing, there is a higher risk of injury compared to trick and jump skiing.

Water skiing may hurt because of a wrong choice of equipment, improper use of equipment, a low level, little to no education about water skiing, a low fitness level, or the number of hours you ski in a day. Injuries are commonly inflicted to the head and face, upper extremities, trunk, back, and lower extremities. However, you can prevent such injuries by strength training and regularly participating in a neuromuscular training program. Furthermore, taking proper lessons and ensuring you have good equipment can also prevent injuries.



Although they share the same basic principle of gliding over a surface with the help of skis, water skiing and snow skiing require different skill sets in order to properly execute the sport. This is mainly because of the location where you carry out the activity, which is also the reason why water skiing is harder than snow skiing. 

Because you are being pulled by a boat when you’re water skiing, you do not have control over your speed and acceleration. This means that you’ll have to exert more physical effort to stay balanced and not crash into the water. If you have to choose one sport over the other, we suggest that you choose snow skiing because it is the easier activity among the two options. But if you want to challenge yourself, water skiing is the perfect activity for you. 

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