Open Water Swimming vs Downhill Skiing

As most youth competitive swimmers, I never learned to ski because ski season is in direct conflict with winter swimming. Growing up in NJ didn’t help either.

I never expected (or wanted) to be a skier but I found myself married to someone whose one true love is downhill skiing, so 2 years ago I started taking classes when my eldest children were learning.  My way of getting them motivated was to show them, that yes I too, despite my dislike for the cold and my fear of heights, was going to learn to ski. I figured it was easier for me to coax them into those uncomfortable boots if I was going through the same miserable process.

Last weekend we hit the slopes for the first time this season. The first runs are always humbling because, well, I am just not good.  I am also scared and skiing takes a lot of concentration for me, there is nothing natural about it. I almost always ski with a teacher but on Monday, in a cloud of snow, I left my teacher and my son to be alone because, well, my 5 year-old skies too fast for me. After a few easy hills on my own, I got bored and went to the top of the mountain.

It was Siberian cold and windy and visibility was null.

Skiing and Swimming

But because of these bad conditions, there was no one around which allowed me to relax (I am always afraid of other skiers running into me).  So as I slowly made my way down the mountain, talking myself through the process (skis strait, pressure on left side, skis strait, pressure right side….) I wondered which sport is more dangerous; open water swimming or downhill skiing. I found that both sports have a lot in common; most importantly they share respect and appreciation for Mother Nature.  The Mountains have ever-changing winds and snow while the Sea has ever-changing currents.  The beauty of both the mountains and sea is incontestable. In the end, however, open water swimming came out on top.

Here are my top-ten reasons why I believe Open Water Swimmers are tougher than Downhill Skiers:

1) Equipment

There is much more equipment developed for the sport of skiing than for the sport of swimming (avalanche backpacks for example).  We have goggles, caps and bathing suits and not much else to keep us safe or comfortable.

2) Pockets

Swimmer can’t really carry anything useful.  No cell phone. No sun block.  No water. No chap stick. The list goes on and on.

3) No Services

There are no stops along the way in an open water swim. No bars to swim up to and have a quick drink. In fact what you eat and drink can make you nauseous or give you cramps.

4) No controlled routes

Although skiers have to pay to access the slopes, there are many “safe” places to ski. There are no controlled long distance water routes.  Swimmers need to be constantly on the lookout for boats, jet skiers and fishermen as we are very hard to spot in the open water.

5) Cold

It’s much harder to warm up post a cold-water swim than post skiing. There is no quick way to warm up after cold-water swimming, my extremities and core are cold because both are exposed in the water. While skiing my fingers, toes and face suffer, but once I get indoors, blood and movement returns quickly.  The recovery after a cold-water swim is much longer.

6) Animals

One is less likely to ski into a bear than to swim into a shark

7) Après Ski

Après ski doesn’t exist in the swimming world. If you are lucky after a swim, a local fisherman may share a cup of tea with you.

8) Salt water

Being submerged in water for hours at a time affect the skin, mouth and hair.  Salt water is just that much more harsh.

9) Drowning

If you ski in controlled conditions you shouldn’t provoke avalanches or break legs but even if you do, you can be wearing a radio or avalanche backpack to prevent you from being stranded.  Most swimmers don’t drown, but if you find yourself trapped or disoriented are underwater, no one can get you as you sink down to the bottom. In the worst situations, you are less likely to survive in the water than in the snow.

10) Jellyfish

Although I avoid the moguls (ski bumps) like I avoid jellyfish, I’d rather have to ski down a slope of moguls than swim through a bloom of jellyfish.

PD.  If you have not done so, we would greatly appreciate if you can take our new quick online poll: X-ray of open water swimmers to understand the what, why and where of open water swimmers.

Categories: Open Water, Training

4 replies

  1. I’m terrified of downhill skiing! My husband is a ski instructor and we live in the Rockie mountains, but I gave up after my first season… It’s simply too expensive for something that scares me! As for open water swimming, I’m not a strong swimmer at all. I always worry about currents as well swimming at sea.
    But give me an hour in the pool or a lake and I’m a happy girl 🙂

  2. I love to ski, but am constantly worried about my knees while doing so! Great workout for the quads. After a good powder weekend just gone by I reckon I can do wall-sits for hours!


  1. Open Water Swimming Vs Downhill Skiing | Wanaka Signs – Blog
  2. Open Water Swimming Vs Downhill Skiing | Wanaka Lake Swimmers

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