If you only get one piece of ski protective gear, make it a good quality ski helmet. Bruised knees and elbows will mend. Broken bones can be reset. However, damage to your unprotected skull is another story. A good-quality ski helmet can prevent or minimize injury to your head. Today’s ski helmets are technologically advanced, lightweight, and downright good looking. You only get one brain. It just makes sense to protect it with a ski helmet.
What’s Inside My Ski Helmet?The discussion of how to choose a ski helmet starts with a quick overview of the materials used to construct a ski or snowboard helmet. Most ski helmets consist of three layers:
- SHELL - An exterior shell made of very thin, rigid acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) or other high-impact plastic exterior shell
- LINER - An interior liner, typically made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), that contains the majority of the cushioning material
- PADDING - Some sort of very thin foam padding for comfort and fit
One misconception is that EPS is synonymous with Styrofoam. They are two different materials. Styrofoam is a trademark from Dow Chemical Company for a specific type of extruded polystyrene used frequently in building materials (those blue insulating boards), craft products and such. EPS is a generic term used to describe the foam products you see in various forms every day — foam drink coolers, foam cups, insulating materials, and yes, helmets. Although EPS has become the industry standard in helmet liners, other types of foam/plastic are used as well.
How Are Ski Helmets Made?
There are two primary manufacturing processes for ski helmets; in-mold and injection molding. In-mold helmets are made by fusing the shell and the shock-absorbing foam liner in a single molding process. The liner and shell are not glued together but are permanently joined. In-mold helmets are sleeker and lighter than injection-molded helmets. Injection-molded helmets have an EPS foam liner bonded to the exterior shell with some sort of high-performance adhesive. Injection-molded helmets are sometimes called “ABS helmets.” “ABS” refers to the plastic used for the exterior shell (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). These helmets offer more durability against everyday knocks and falls, while providing similar impact protection as the in-mold design.
The Right Ski Helmet Depends on What Type of Skiing You'll Be Doing
All-Mountain/Recreational SkiingFor most skiing, a standard, three-quarter shell ski or snowboard helmet is a good choice. This type of helmet has a bucket-shaped shell and is designed to protect the:
- sides, and
- back of your head.
If you venture into high-speed skiing or downhill ski racing, you’ll want a ski race helmet. Ski race helmets offer:
- More extensive protection
- Includes a chin bar (often detachable) that extends across your face
- Protection for the top, back, and sides of your head as well as your chin, jaw, cheeks and sides of your face.
Ski Racing - International Ski Federation (FIS)The FIS has specific guidelines regarding ski racing helmets. In general, this ski race helmet:
- has some sort of ear coverage,
- a smooth surface, and
- it conforms to certain institutional safety and impact standards.
Helmet requirements vary depending on the race governing organization and the race discipline. For that reason, we recommend that you consult the safety equipment guidelines of the sponsoring organization for the race(s) where you plan to compete.
Some Basic Design Features to Consider before Choosing a Ski HelmetOnce you have an idea of the basic type of ski helmet you need, here are some basic design features you may want to consider before you buy:
- Venting - Are you one of those people with an internal furnace that’s always on “High?” Are you a freeze baby? You know your own body. Look at the number of vents and venting system on your potential ski helmet to find the right match for you.
- Design - Do you need a full shell or a short shell? A full-shell ski helmet gives you hard-shell protection down to your ears for additional coverage and is recommended if you’re going to be doing faster skiing. A short shell ski helmet does not cover your ears; many skiers feel that a short shell ski helmet feels less constricting than a full-shell ski helmet. However, a short shell ski offers more than sufficient protection for the majority of recreational skiers.
- Do you want a brim or not? A ski helmet with a brim isn’t just a style choice, a brim can help shield your eyes from the sun and adds a bit more of a barrier to keep snow and ice out off your face.
- Goggles - Do you already have a pair of ski goggles that you love? Do you want a ski helmet that is designed to fit seamlessly with a certain make of ski goggles?
- Audio compatibility - Do you want to listen to music on the lift? Some ski helmets are audio compatible, meaning that you can purchase separately a set of audio drops that plug into your phone or music player.
- Like a bicycle helmet or a skateboard helmet, a ski helmet should be discarded after a major crash or impact, even if the helmet appears to be undamaged. For this reason, we strongly advise against buying used helmets because it isn't always possible to know the ski helmet’s history.
Should My Ski Helmet Meet Any Safety Standards?
Unless otherwise noted in the product description, ski helmets sold by SportsProtective meet the ASTM F2040 snow helmet safety standard (the US-based standard that covers non-motorized recreational snow sports) and the CE EN 1077 snow helmet safety standard (the European standard for alpine skiing and snowboarding helmets). Some helmets are certified to both ASTM and CE EN standards. An even tougher snowboard protective gear/helmet standard is the Snell RS-98 standard. Most snow helmet manufacturers use the ASTM F2040 standard, largely because the Snell certification is very expensive and Snell-certified helmets have added bulk and weight that aren't appealing to consumers. You can compare helmet safety standards across all sports and standards here.
Make Sure Your Ski Helmet Fits Properly
To find a ski helmet that fits you comfortably, start with SportsProtective’s Helmet Sizing Guide, then use your head measurements to compare all of the different helmet offerings from the helmet manufacturers that appeal to you. Every ski helmet has a sizing table in its description that shows the head size (usually in centimeters for more accuracy) and corresponding helmet size (Small, Medium, Large, etc.). Different manufacturers make their helmet molds differently.
For you, the wearer, what’s important is that the helmet fits comfortably all the way around your head. If you think you’ve got the proper size, but the helmet is still a little roomy in a spot or two, don’t worry. Included with the helmet are fit pads that you can add where necessary to achieve a more secure fit. However, if you’ve selected what you believe is the proper size but feel an uncomfortable pressure anywhere around the circumference of your head, then the helmet is probably too small for you. Try a different size or style of helmet from the same line or try a different manufacturer altogether.
The way a helmet rests on your head is critical to how it will perform. Proper helmet fit means proper head coverage. When you try on a helmet, the front of the helmet should sit down onto your forehead until just above your eyebrows. There should be room enough to slip on a pair of goggles or sunglasses, but not much more. The helmet should not fit so tightly that it hurts your head; however, it should be snug enough that it doesn’t flop around if you vigorously shake your head.
Why Is There Such a Wide Range in the Price of Snowboard Helmets?Once you start shopping for a ski helmet, you might be surprised (and even have a bit of sticker shock) when you see the wide range of helmet options and prices out there. It’s only natural to ask: “What’s the difference between an $80 ski helmet and a $200 ski helmet?” Ski helmets in all price ranges offer essentially the same amount of protective capacity when it comes to crashes and collisions. It’s important to note that nearly ALL of our ski helmets are safety certified (ASTM F2040 & CE EN 1077) for recreational snow use and offer the same amount of high quality protection. The differences come in extras and features such as:
- Helmet Construction
- Number of Vents
- Type of Venting
- Fit Systems
- Interior Liner
Features determine the pricing. Choose the perfect ski helmet for you and your budget.
Ski Helmets from $150+Ski helmets in this price take the standard offerings of most helmets and revamp them by adding more technology for ease of use. In this price range, you'll generally find such features as:
- Helmet Construction – In-Mold - This manufacturing process involves molding the helmet’s hard outer shell simultaneously with the impact-absorbing EPS middle layer. This injected layer is permanently fused to the outer shell and allows for more venting capabilities and a much lighter overall helmet (important if you ski or snowboard in a multitude of weather conditions or if your core temperature tends to change quickly). In-Mold construction also results in a more lightweight helmet, prefect for less cumbersome feel.
- Number of Vents – The Most Venting - Because these higher-end helmets are made with In-Mold construction, they offer a much wider range of vent positioning and placement since the outer shell and inner mold match up perfectly with each other. More vents = a cooler or warmer head when you need it!
- Type of Venting – On-the-Go/Thermostat Control - A small switch near the brim or base or top of theses helmets controls the vents and can be flipped completely open when your noggin needs a little more fresh air, or completely closed on those frigid, icy days. Or flip the switch to somewhere in the middle! With on-the-go venting, you can adjust the temp inside your helmet with the flip of a switch, even with gloves on.
- Fit – Adjustable Fit Systems - Higher-end helmets usually offer a lot more removable padding along the interior for a custom fit AND an adjustable dial at the back of your helmet to further tweak the fit. Adjust your helmet day to day, season to season or, if you decided to wear a beanie or your goggle strap underneath your helmet, with the simple turn of a dial!
- Interior Liner – Anti-Odor Comfort Liner - Ski and snowboard helmets at the higher price points also feature tech-savvy, interior liners that combat odor and mildew, yet are completely breathable and sweat wicking. These anti-microbial liners, enhanced with silver or Hydrofoil nylon fibers help regulate heat and odor automatically, so you can keep your mind on that next jump or mogul, instead of wondering about helmet funk.
Ski Helmets from $100-$150Helmets in this next price point offer most of the same features as the helmets above, however, the interior liner may be slightly different:
- Interior Liner – Standard Foam Liner - This soft, removable and washable liner provides great comfort and fit, but does not combat sweat and heat the way more advanced liners do naturally with their special fibers woven into the padding. We recommend you gently hand wash dirty or stinky liners to lengthen the life of your helmet.
Ski Helmets under $100Helmets in this price range employ either In-Mold or hard shell construction, but generally have a similar number of vents and standard interior liners as well as vent plugs as a means to control the temperature in your helmet:
- Helmet Construction – In-mold or Hard Shell - Hard shell construction takes an already formed outer shell and then attaches it to the pre-molded, impact absorbing EPS liner. This creates a quality, protective helmet with a bit more weight to it and slightly fewer venting options but a great price point.
- Type of Venting – Before-You-Go/Vent Plugs or As-You-Ride/Channeled Airflow - Instead of being able to flip a switch on-the-go to adjust the venting and airflow on to your head, you’ll have to take off your helmet to pop out or pop back in the foam vent plugs. Leave them at home or in the ski lodge. Or pack a couple in your jacket pocket in case you need to make some temperature adjustments while you take a break on the slopes. Some ski or snowboard helmets in this price range have channeled airflow venting, which sucks in cool fresh air and pushes out stale air from your helmet with strategically placed vents while you're moving.
- Fit System – In Form or Fit Kit - Within this price range you have a choice in fit systems. Some offer customizable fit systems for dialed in adjustments. Others have a collection of removable pads in varying thicknesses that you can swap in and out of your helmet.