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Lets talk about ski helmets

 

Why should you wear a ski helmet? What are the benefits? Love them or hate them, it's hard to deny that ski helmets have become an essential piece of ski equipment. We've put together a handy guide for you to look at whether you're looking for your very first ski helmet or think it's time for an upgrade. If you'd rather skip the fuss and dive straight into our collection click here.

Why should you wear a ski helmet?

Wearing a ski helmet isn't going to magically make you immune to all head injuries and there is still an inherent risk involved with all snowsports. The purpose of ski helmets is to reduce the severity of any head injuries that do occur along with protecting against the small knocks and bumps that may otherwise leave a mark. A study by the National Ski Areas Association of America showed that between 2003 and 2013 helmet usage had risen from 25% to 70%, yet the amount of head injuries hadn't gone down. The severity of head injuries however, had. 

Ski helmets are also becoming lighter, more comfortable and less intrusive all the time. With such progression it's now hard to argue against the wearing of a helmet as the safety benefits are so clear. To summarise a 2012 study by the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma Injury Control:

  • Ski helmets clearly decrease the risk and severity of head injuries compared to non-helmeted participants
  • The beneficial effects of helmets are not negated by unintended risks like neck or cervical spine injury
  • The use of ski helmets does not promote riskier behaviour due to the perceived safety

As a final point, whilst you may feel confident enough in your own skiing ability to not fall over or crash, it's very hard to say the same about other slope users who may crash into you. 

Replacing your helmet

Ski helmets are, obviously, designed to offer your head more protection in the event of a fall or crash. Over time, the amount of protection that a helmet offers will diminish and it's important to take this into account when deciding if it's time to treat yourself to an upgrade. But what exactly can lead to a helmet needing to be replaced? Let us help you. 

Damage

As we have covered, helmets are designed to help protect your head. In a more serious impact, helmets may absorb part of this energy through partial destruction of the foam inserts. This may not be immediately obvious, or even visible at all, but it's imperative that after any serious impacts you do replace your helmet as it will not offer the same level of protection in any subsequent crashes. Try to handle your helmets as carefully as you reasonably can - place it, don't throw it. After all, it's much easier to replace a helmet than a head.  

Time

Time is a much trickier answer. Exactly how long is too long? The problem is, it depends. Most helmets are made from materials that will degrade over time, but the extent of this degradation can be exasperated by other factors. A general recommendation from manufacturers suggests that after 3 years of normal use it's time to start thinking about replacing your helmet. 

Factors that can influence the integrity of helmets includes exposure to extreme temperatures and excess UV radiation - both things that we as skiers and snowboarders experience. Whilst high temperatures can cause the plastic to begin to melt - so don't leave your helmet in the car on a sunny day - it's colder temperatures that pose more of a risk. As part of the certification process, helmets must be exposed to a temperature of -25° for at least four hours. Whilst this ensures that they are capable of coping with a short burst, extended periods of exposure to cold over months or years will affect the lifespan of a helmet. 

As you may have experienced, it's very easy to get sunburnt at high altitude in the mountains. This additional exposure to UV radiation also has an impact on the lifespan of a helmet. This is tested as part of an 'artificial ageing' process during the certification, so you can be assured that a day on the slopes won't do any lasting damage. But two full seasons of particularly sunny weather? You might have to replace your helmet sooner than you'd expect. 

 

What to look for when buying a helmet

Certification

In Europe, the most widely adopted safety standard for ski helmets is EN 1077:2007. This is split down into two sub-sections, Class A and Class B. The most obvious difference between the two is the extent to which the helmet must cover the head. Take the two Sweet Protection helmets to the right. On the left, we have the Volata, and on the right the Switcher

Class A helmets must have the hard shell extending over the ears, whereas Class B helmets are allowed to have a soft ear covering, or no covering at all. Class A helmets are also subject to tougher penetration testing, however the rest of the tests during certification remain the same. Generally speaking, a Class A helmet will provide a greater level of protection, but the soft ear pads of Class B helmets are often found comfier along with providing better hearing and ventilation. 

For ski racing, rules regarding helmet certification is much stricter. If you are competing in GS, SG or DH events under FIS regulations your helmet must be ASTM 2040, EN 1077 Class A certified and display the 'RH 2013' sticker shown to the right. For slalom events, your helmet must be at least EN 1077 Class B certified however you are able to use a Class A certified helmet for all events. For the current FIS equipment regulations click here.

Fit

Aside from offering a base level of safety, the fit of your ski helmet is the most important thing that you should be looking for. Almost all helmets are sized in a cm length so it's easy to size up your head. Using soft measuring tape or a piece of string and a ruler, measure the circumference of your head at a level slightly above your eyebrows. 

Most brands offer helmets that cover a range of sizes, for example 54-56cm or 56-59cm. If you're on the cusp between sizes, always try to compare them both. If this isn't possible, consider sizing up as you have more options for making a loose helmet tighter than making a tight helmet looser. Try to buy helmets based on cm measurements rather than the generic small, medium, large - what's medium for one brand may not be medium in another. 

Helmet adjustability now comes in various forms. Gone are the days of relying solely on pads of varying widths for the perfect fit, you're now much more likely to encounter a twistable dial on the back of your helmet. When tightened, these dials cause plastic strips to tighten over the liner onto your head allowing a much more personalised fit. When combined with pads in areas like the temple, you can easily make an imperfect fit perfect. 

Technology

Modern helmets are rammed full of technology, features and materials that are all designed to keep you as safe as possible. Confused about the terminology or benefits? Continue reading.

MIPS

Helmets are great at offering protection when falling vertically onto a flat surface. Unfortunately, in real life you're much more likely to impact the ground at an angle which is where a traditional helmet suffers. MIPS, or Multi-directional Impact Protection System, was developed back in 1996 and has now become a lot more commonplace in the helmet industry due to the safety benefit it offers during an impact. 

In a helmet with the MIPS Brain Protection System, the shell and liner are separated by a yellow Low Friction Layer, shown in the image to the right. This low friction layer allows the helmet to slide relative to the head during an angled impact which provides additional protection against rotational motion. 

Many brands are now implementing MIPS technology into their helmet line. To see all of our MIPS helmets click here or have a look at some examples below. 

Other Technologies

Traditional helmets tend to use EPS or EPP foam liners. These liners still provide a high level of protection, but more durable alternatives are beginning to find their way onto our heads. 

Scott have begun using D30 foam in some of their helmets to dampen lower energy impacts more effectively than the high-energy focused EPS foam. 

Shred not only have their own system to protect against rotational impacts similar to MIPS - Shred RES (Rotational Energy System) - but they have also started using Casidion foam in their high end helmets like the Basher Ultimate. This self-healing foam has been infused with carbon nanostructures to dissipate impact energy more efficiently. This has allowed Shred to slim down their liners to reduce bulk and weight whilst still offering extremely high levels of protection. Other brands implementing Casidion into their lineup includes Scott, where their lightweight Couloir 2 helmet utilised a Casidion insert to pass both the EN 1077 skiing and EN 12492 mountaineering certifications. 

Despite being early adopters of MIPS, POC have begun implementing their proprietary SPIN (Shearing Pads INside) system as an alternative. Similar in principle, the SPIN system consists of a series of silicone pads built into the fabric padding that allow for movement of the helmet in much the same way as MIPS and Shred RES. To take a look at our range of SPIN helmets click here.

Not to be outdone, Atomic have also developed their own MIPS alternative. AMID (Atomic Multi-directional Impact Deflector) is a dual density foam fixed to the helmet's core that is free to move in all directions. This provides better protection against impacts from all directions and through a greater variety of forces. To view Atomic helmets featuring AMID click here.

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