Following on from last month’s buying guide for ski and snowboard jackets, in this post we’ll be talking you through one of the biggest changes to snow trends in the last 15 years – helmets.
If you’re lucky enough to have been skiing or snowboarding since the turn of the millenium and before; no doubt you remember the days when the mountain was a place for throwing on some sunnies, grabbing your favourite headscarf or beanie, and embracing the sunshine as you carved serenely down the slopes.
One of the biggest developments in snowsports over the past decade, the uptake of protective gear has boomed. As more people than ever start taking to the pistes – coupled with some tragic high-profile stories in the media – helmets have stopped being the preserve of the ski school toddler; and today it is now the norm to be sporting your own helmet and goggles, just as you own a ski jacket, pants and gloves.
Of course, with the surge in demand the technology and choice involved in the protective kit available has grown massively, so now there really is the perfect helmet out there to match all budgets, abilities, styles and head shapes. With many insurers now insisting on helmet use in their coverage – and rumours that some mountains may soon make their adoption compulsory – now is a better time than ever to invest. After all; when you have the crash that needs it, that helmet will suddenly be the best purchase you ever made.
Below we’ve compiled a buying guide giving an overview of the key criteria to look out for when buying a new lid:
Style is key in buying your own helmet. After all, if you don’t like how it looks, you’re less likely to wear it! Several styles now exist, some unique to particular manufacturers, some generalised to different styles of skiing/snowboarding:
i) The Racer
Offering the most protection for the speed demons out there; race-oriented helmets have a very streamlined profile, and will often either cover the ears, or feature extra-thick padding over them, as well as carrying round to the very base of the skull. Young infant helmets are often modelled around the same profile, because of the extra protection it provides. German race protection manufacturers Uvex feature prominently in this field, along with POC and Shred (whose Race Helmet and Brain Box respectively offer this fit).
ii) The Freestyler
If you aspire to landing 720s in the snow park, or hitting a freshly-built booter in the pow, then a freestyle/freeride-oriented lid is the way to go. These often share a passing resemblance to skate helmets, and generally feature loud colours or logos (and if they don’t, it’s nothing a few brand/resort stickers won’t fix). Whilst still offering padding over the ears, this will probably be a bit thinner than the race-helmets, so as to benefit your hearing and balance when jumping about. They’ll likely not cover as much of the base of your skull (so as to aid flexibility), and they’re also more likely to feature built-in headphones (great for psyching-up before a jump), and slightly more ventilation than the race lids. At the upper-end of freeride, athletes will often wear full-face helmets instead of these skate-inspired designs – but unless you genuinely expect to be jumping 60+ feet and outrunning avalanches, you needn’t consider this. The brands to look out for are Sweet Protection (whose signature designs are highly regarded), Bern, Giro, Smith, Salomon, POC, K2 & Shred.
iii) The Recreational
Probably the best helmets for those who like to do a bit of everything. Recreational helmets will be the most naturally comfortable, featuring a whole host of additions focussed on improving rider comfort. Salomon are the market leaders in Europe, with their trademark shell design used across a range of their models. These lids will usually be a bit heavier than race helmets – on account of the tech – but do offer protection across more of the head than freestyle models (although the freestyle helmets can handle slightly heavier impacts). Giro and Scott also offer some excellent recreational helmets worth looking into.
Once you’ve identified the styles you like the look of, getting a good fit is the next step in choosing a helmet. As a general rule, the absolute best way to pick a helmet is to try a number of them on, and go for the one that feels best. This is because the shell sizes between manufacturers vary – some will have two shell sizes, that they fit with different size liners; whilst others create unique shells for each size. That said, all will offer measurements in cm, so if you have a tape measure to hand, you can get a very good sense of what’s appropriate. With the help of someone else, take the tape measure, and measure the circumference of your cranium at it’s widest point (somewhere between your brow and the crown). If your measurement comes up at the borderline between two sizes on the model size-chart, consider looking at a different model where your size is more to the centre/top of the scale.
If you’re willing to forego lightness in your helmet for some creature comforts, there are plenty of brands willing to oblige these days, with a whole wealth of upgrades designed to make you get on that little bit better with the shell strapped to your skull. Many models now have adjustable liners – much like bike helmets – to offer a slightly more snug fit. These are a great feature because they really do improve the comfort and protection provided. Salomon now offer a ‘Custom Air’ liner, that fills with air once you’ve put the helmet on, pushing the helmet onto your head with even pressure all-round – it’s been a big hit since launching last year.
For the music-lovers amongst you, headphones built-in to the liner are now a commonly-found upgrade. Allowing you to throw your phone or media player into a jacket pocket, they usually have a thin cord running down from one of the ears, which can thread into the inside of your jacket. Many people often suggest riding with their regular headphones/earphones tucked in under the helmet, however this is a false economy – regular headphones are designed to isolate the user from their surroundings for audio quality, which can play havoc with balance (managed by your inner ear), and more importantly prevents you hear those riding the mountain around you – more than one serious crash has been caused by somebody unaware of another skier racing up behind them. The ‘phones built into the helmet are designed to allow outside noise through to your ears just as readily, and commonly feature a glove-friendly volume control.
Those who might need to take important calls whilst one the mountain will also find bluetooth-ready (and in some cases – fitted) helmets; allowing you to take and make telephone calls whilst keeping your phone tucked away safe. This also allows for some amusing moments, jumping through the powder whilst talking to loved ones or business partners sat back at home. Just don’t fall over.
One last feature that should not go unmentioned is a removable liner – not only does it allow the sweaty pads to be washed again before next season, but some ski helmets also substitute excellently for cycling, skating and kayaking.
For kids, expect to pay upwards of £50; adults upwards of £70. When it comes to price, ski and snowboard helmets are much like ski boots – They will appear expensive, and the temptation will be to grab the ‘better value’ offering, but the truth is that you will pay for what you get, and paying more WILL provide the better – and in this case, SAFER – product. Style is important, but fit is what you’re really buying this helmet for, so find the one you like that fits well, and buy it. It is easy to get 10 years (or more) out of a ski helmet provided you never have a big accident, and when you do, you will be grateful for every penny invested in it.
At the end of the day your health is worth paying to protect.
If this guide has helped you decide, then hop over to the SportPursuit ski section and save 30-70% off top ski brands.