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How to Choose a Ski Helmet

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already decided to buy a helmet for skiing or snowboarding. Wise decision. Modern, lightweight snow helmets significantly reduce the chance of brain injury. Besides, they make you look cool.

Ski Helmets

When to Wear a Ski Helmet

If you’re skiing or snowboarding at a downhill ski area, wear a helmet. If you’re backcountry skiing down steep slopes, wear a helmet. If you’re building up any sort of speed and the passing trees become a bit of a blur…well, you guessed it. On the other hand, cross-country skiers who stick to flat, gentle terrain over golf courses or the backyard woods often forgo wearing helmets. This is fine. Just use good judgment.

Don’t use climbing or skateboard helmets for skiing or snowboarding. Snow helmets are often used for warmth and are shaped differently to provide greater coverage, and the shell material is made to withstand extreme cold. Likewise, an insulated snow helmet might be out of place in a skateboard park.

Outer Shell

Usually made of ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or other high-impact plastic, the smooth, thin outer shell layer is the first line of defense against impacts

Shock Absorption Layer

…Located just beneath the outer shell, this plastic foam layer is typically made with EPS (expanded polystyrene) and is designed to absorb the impact in a fall or collision. Note that if the helmet does withstand a violent impact, the EPS may become compacted, thus losing its shock-absorbing ability. Even though the helmet may look fine outwardly, it’s time for a new helmet.

In-Mold vs. Injection Molded

Snow helmets are constructed using one of two methods. They use either the in-mold method, with the EPS layer fused to the outer hard shell in a single molding process, or the injection-molded method, in which the EPS layer is glued to the hard shell with an adhesive. Both methods are equally impact resistant, but in-mold helmets tend to be slightly lighter and sleeker.

Insulated Liner

A liner—the layer that lies against your head—provides comfort and warmth. Some liners are removable so they can be washed. Others are fixed. Don’t get too hung up on removable vs. fixed. Most helmets are so well ventilated that odor is seldom an issue. Depending on weather conditions, you may also want to wear a thin beanie for additional warmth.

Ear Protection

Most snow helmets include thick foam padding to cover the ears. These pads provide a degree of abrasion resistance in a crash, plus they keep your ears warm. Racing helmets have hard shells over the ears in case you whack a slalom gate.

Safety

Which helmets keep you safe? All snow helmets sold by Eastern Mountain Sports and most ski shops pass either the ASTM snow helmet safety standards (American) or CE EN 1077 standards (European). They all provide excellent protection.

Ventilation

It’s often warm and sunny out on the slopes, and cooling airflow within the helmet can be very welcome. Usually, when deciding between helmets, the more venting, the better, as long as (and this is important) there’s a sliding mechanism that lets you adjust or close the vents on the go, even when wearing gloves. Adjustable venting allows you to ski in a wide range of temperatures.

Helmets with fixed vents that stay open may not always be suitable for extremely cold conditions. Some helmets include removable vent plugs, though this adjustment takes some time.

Helmet Sizing

Helmets come in different sizes. Refer to the sizing chart on the helmet’s packaging or in the online description. The size, either in centimeters or inches, corresponds to your head’s circumference.

Try the Helmet On

How well the helmet performs depends on how well it fits. The front lid of the helmet should be positioned just above the eyebrows. The helmet should be comfortably snug so if you move your head about, the helmet doesn’t wiggle and shift. However, it shouldn’t be so tight that it causes discomfort.

Adjustable Sizing

Many helmets feature an interior headband that can be widened or tightened by manipulating a dial in the back of the helmet. This lets you fine-tune the fit and allows you to comfortably wear a thicker hat if it’s really cold out. Another common adjustment method is adding or removing liner pads of various thicknesses. These adjustable fit pads reduce or enlarge the space inside the helmet, which in turn affects the fit. Unlike dial adjustments, pad adjustments cannot be made on the go.

Compatibility with Goggles

Another major consideration is how the helmet conforms to your goggles. When you’re wearing both goggles and a helmet, is there a gap between the two? You can always pick out the person in the ski lodge with a poor helmet/goggles fit by the red exposure streak on their forehead. Conversely, you don’t want an overly big helmet and goggles that press against each other, adversely affecting the fit of each.

The best option is to buy the helmet and goggles at the same time and test the fit. Choosing a helmet and goggles from the same vendor also increases the chances of a proper fit.


We hope this information helps. Stay safe and have fun.

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