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How to Choose: Ski Body Armor

Why do you need ski body armor in the first place?

You might not think you need ski armor. Maybe you’re just learning to ski and know you won’t be doing any serious tricks for a while. Or maybe you’re confident in your abilities and don’t worry about wiping out. No matter where you are on the skiing spectrum, ski body armor can protect your chest, back, and shoulders from hard hits on ice or packed snow (or any rocks or logs that might be under the snow). A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine determined that the most common skiing injuries were wrist injuries, shoulder soft tissue injuries, ankle injuries, concussions, and clavicle fractures. Any of these injuries can keep you off your skis for days or weeks. However, shoulder and clavicle injuries (not to mention rib and back injuries) can be minimized or prevented with good-quality ski body armor. The range of ski body armor on the market can be a little daunting. Once you've made some basic decisions regarding construction and design, it will be easy to choose the right ski body armor for your needs.

Do I need hard-shell or soft-shell ski body armor?

Choosing the right ski armor construction for your needs depends on what type of riding you’ll be doing—essentially, where and how do you ride? Just like with tacos, you have two basic constructions: hard-shell and soft-shell. A third option is VPD, a visco-elastic polymer dough from POC that is soft and pliable like soft-shell body armor but immediately stiffens upon impact so it functions more like hard-shell body armor.

Hard-Shell Ski Body Armor

Hard-shell body armor has molded high-impact plastic cups covering key areas, such as your chest/sternum, spine/lower back, shoulders, and elbows. While this is a bit bulkier than soft-shell body armor, it’s more protective. Hard-shell skiing body armor can be your best friend if you’re going to be riding in the park or anywhere with hard, fixed objects (railings, ramps, etc). When you fall (and everyone does, especially when trying out a new trick), you may want the tougher impact protection and puncture resistance of hard-shell ski body armor.

Soft-Shell Ski Body Armor

Soft-shell body armor uses foam padding to protect your chest, ribs, back, shoulders, and elbows. By design, soft-shell body armor is more flexible and lighter weight than hard-shell body armor. Soft-shell ski body armor is a good choice if you:
  • Are skiing on the mountain and not the park
  • If you’re a beginner looking for extra protection while you advance your skills
  • If you've previously had a back or shoulder injury and want to give yourself a bit more coverage
  • Simply want your base layer to also add a little protection

Ski jacket, vest, or spine protector: What design is best for you?

Ski body armor is available in designs ranging from long-sleeved jacket styles that give full coverage to sleeveless vest styles that cover your torso and shoulders to back protectors that cover only your spine. What you need to ask yourself is what parts of your upper body do you want covered? What areas give you the most concern? If you’ve had back or tailbone issues in the past, perhaps you just want spine coverage. If you’ve had a shoulder injury in the past, maybe your primary objective is to keep that area protected.

Ski body armor with sleeves

If you want full upper body coverage, you’ll want ski body armor with sleeves. A hard-shell version will generally come in a jacket style that is low-profile enough to wear under an existing jacket or hoodie. Depending upon the manufacturer, the sleeves will likely have shoulder and/or elbow padding.

Ski vests

Vest-style ski body armor covers your torso—chest, ribs, and back—while giving your arms maximum mobility.

Ski spine protector

Ski spine protectors strap around your shoulders and waist a little like a turtle shell, only much more flexible, lightweight, and lower profile. If your only concern is preventing a back injury, then perhaps a ski spine protector is all you need.

Ski body armor, bulk, and weight

Some riders don’t want to wear ski body armor because they think it’s too heavy or bulky and will decrease their mobility and range of motion. As noted above, shoulder and clavicle injuries are among the most common skiing injuries. For skiers in the park, on ramps or railings, or riding anywhere near or on a fixed object, you’ll want the impact- and puncture resistance provided by hard-shell ski body armor. If you want to prevent or minimize injury or if you have prior injuries or issues with your shoulder, back, tailbone, kidneys, or elsewhere on your torso, it just makes sense to throw on a protective layer before you hit the mountain. New technologies, like POC’s VPD technology, have made body armor lighter and more pliable than ever before while still providing excellent protection. If there are specific areas of your upper body where you want protection, let that need guide your shopping. The bulk and weight of the ski armor you choose is ultimately up to you.

Ski body armor price ranges

There is a big wide range in pricing for ski body armor. For the most part, more money will buy you greater protection as well as greater technology (meaning that more protection does not necessarily mean more weight or more bulk).

Ski body armor under $100

Ski body armor under $100 will almost always have soft-shell construction. You're likely to find a great piece of protective armor to get a base layer of protection. Or, you'll find body armor that is body-part-specific, such as a spine or chest guard. 

Ski body armor from $100-$200

Ski body armor in this price range includes both soft- and hard-shell armor. Some, like the innovative Vigilante Air Jacket incorporate a bit of both. The Vigilante Air has hard-shell shoulder and elbow caps, stiff (but not hard-shell) spine protection, and soft-shell chest, rib, and upper arm protection. In this category, you may find added features such as 'neck-brace designed', venting, or wider body coverage such as elbow, forearm and/or shoulder protection. 

Ski body armor over $200

The top price range gives you the ultimate in ski body armor technology, giving you incredibly protective yet lightweight gear. Manufacturers use high-tech protective materials, such as guards that feel soft, but hardens upon impact. This category is typically constructed with rugged fabric such as Kevlar, and may include reverse overlock seams for added comfort.  Additionally, more of your upper body is likely to be covered with higher-end body armor. 


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