Ski helmets are designed to be comfortable and long-lasting, however, this doesn’t mean that they will last forever. And if you were to look inside your helmet for an expiry date or use-by date tag, you won’t find one.
In fact, helmet manufacturers themselves will tell you that there is no actual “expiration date or anything like that”.
How long ski helmets last depends more on how often the helmet is used and how you handle and store your ski helmet, rather than a specific date in the future.
There are also other factors to consider that may shorten the life of your helmet. Let’s take a look at them in more detail below.
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Anatomy Of A Ski Helmet
Contrary to what some people would like to believe, ski helmets do not last forever. Like everything else, the more you use your helmet, the more chance that its condition will deteriorate, however, as mentioned above, this is dependent on many things.
Modern ski helmets are fairly standard in their construction, and if left in a box on a shelf for several years it will remain in pristine condition. But who wants to do that?
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A quick overview of the construction of a helmet designed for skiing or snowboarding is as follows:
- The outer shell, which is generally constructed from a polymer like ABS or polycarbonate.
- The inner foam liner which will almost always be either EPS or EPP.
- Comfort padding.
- Chin strap.
The chin strap is a very important part of the helmet as it is responsible for keeping the actual helmet secured to your head. The chin strap is sturdy and often made of vinyl or leather and will need quite a fair bit of serious abuse to break or fray.
The comfort padding is that soft material inside the helmet that makes the helmet comfortable against your head and keeps your ears warm during a blizzard or sub-zero temperatures.
The comfort padding in a snow helmet is much the same as the comfort padding in a motorcycle helmet in that after extended periods of usage (months or years depending on how often you ski) it can lose its soft, snug, comfy feel.
If and when that happens, it is not the end of the world. If every other part of your helmet is still in good condition, then the comfort padding in many helmets can be removed and replaced with new padding, and it will feel just like a new helmet. Super comfy again.
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The outer shell is the hard part of the helmet that is going to protect your head from low-hanging tree branches, rocks, other skiers, and a variety of other obstacles. It is quite possible for you to ski for many, many years without inflicting any damage on the outer shell of your helmet.
However, you need to take care of the helmet shell, and you need to inspect it for chips, or cracks from time to time. Even if you haven’t had an accident, you or someone else may have dropped it on the road or a concrete floor. If for any reason you notice a hairline crack, then you should stop using that helmet immediately.
If you continue to use a helmet with a crack or chip in the outer shell, then the next collision with any object could cause the helmet to split open exposing your head to the nearest rock, tree branch, or ski lift pylon.
The last helmet component is the foam lining. The job of the foam liner is to absorb the energy from an impact, reducing the chances of injury to your head and brain. As mentioned, there are two main types of foam liner, EPS and EPP. We need to look further into these as they are crucial to the protective qualities of your ski helmet.
EPS and EPP Foam Linings
Most ski helmets will have either an EPS or EPP foam lining in them. It is important that you know the type of lining your ski helmet has because it can have a major impact on when you may need to replace your helmet.
- EPS (Expanded PolyStyrene) foam is the most common type of foam, and is inexpensive and lightweight. Helmets that use an EPS lining can deal with a single major impact before they need to be replaced. After a major impact, the EPS foam is crushed and cannot spring back to its original shape, meaning that it cannot absorb the energy from a subsequent impact.
- EPP (Expanded PolyProylene) foam is essentially a thicker type of foam. Unlike EPS linings, EPP will not deform permanently. This means that after an impact, the EPP is able to return to its original shape ready to protect your head again. However, if you should have a seriously hard impact which damages the outer shell, then you should be considering replacing your helmet as soon as possible (like right now!).
How Often To Replace Ski Helmets?
To be honest, that is not the right question to ask. The correct question would be ‘When’? When to replace a ski helmet?
The internet seems to be filled with myths and misinformation. A common question is ‘do ski helmets expire?’. You will find various answers to that question ranging from ‘5 years’ to ‘between 3 to 5 years’, with many writers claiming that this is what helmet manufacturers recommend.
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The correct answer to ‘do ski helmets expire?’ is No. At least not in the sense of having a predefined expiry date like a packet of cornflakes does.
The reason for this is that manufacturers have no way of knowing how often each and every ski helmet purchaser will use their helmet. Some people will use their helmets for only one or two weeks per ski season. While others who work at a ski resort or live adjacent to great ski slopes will likely use their helmet every day.
Additionally, manufacturers have no idea of how different people take care of their helmets. Do you pat down your helmet at the end of the day, and pack it away in a clean, dry environment? Or, do you just toss it in the corner with your ski boots, etc.?
On top of that is the potential for some people to accept that 5 years means 5 years no matter what. So let’s take a look at the better question of ‘when’.
When To Replace A Ski Helmet?
The Foam Lining
As discussed above, it’s important to know whether your helmet’s foam liner is made of EPS or EPP. Visually, EPS looks like the white styrofoam packaging material that is used for most household goods when you first buy them, though EPS can and will come in a variety of colors not just white.
EPP, on the other hand, looks more like regular plastic than polystyrene. If you’re not sure what type of foam your helmet has, you can check the manufacturer’s website to be certain.
If your helmet has EPS foam and you have a minor accident, you can do a quick visual check to see if the foam has been squashed or flattened. If it appears to be unaffected, you can continue to use the helmet. If your helmet is involved in a major accident, it is best to replace the helmet immediately.
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After an accident, you should visually check the EPS/EPP for compression, as well as check the outer shell for any signs of dents or cracks. Any damage to the outer shell is a good time to replace your helmet. Even a hairline crack is just waiting for the next accident to split right open. Get a new helmet straight away.
If you are one of the lucky ones that never have an accident, never drop their helmet, and take meticulous care of their helmet, there is one thing that you can’t avoid and you need to be aware of. That is ‘photo-oxidative degradation’.
Photo-oxidative degradation is basically degradation due to exposure to ultra-violet light. Polycarbonate helmet shells can degrade due to prolonged exposure to UV rays. It’s worthy to note that you don’t necessarily need strong sunshine for UV damage.
Fortunately, helmet manufacturers know about this phenomenon and add a stabilizer to the polycarbonate during the manufacturing process. The downside is that it doesn’t last forever, yet it will probably last longer than necessary. Photo-oxidative degradation will make the shell brittle and dangerous in an accident.
Once again, you need to inspect your helmet’s outer shell. After several years, the first thing that you might notice is that the helmet’s color is starting to fade. Usually, the fading will appear on the top of the helmet first, the next stage is the appearance of what looks like cracks in the helmet surface. Time to get a new helmet!
Helmet manufacturers are always trying to improve the safety level of their helmets in order to minimize head and brain injuries to reduce the chance of concussion.
One of the best-known technological improvements in recent years has been the addition of MIPS technology to many types of helmets. Similar technologies to MIPS, include WaveCel, POC’s SPIN, and Giro/Bell’s Spherical (aka MIPS SP).
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These technologies are all designed to reduce rotational forces during an impact/accident by allowing the helmet to shift slightly which reduces the energy forces on your brain and ultimately reduces the chance of major injuries.
Replacing your aging helmet with a helmet that incorporates these new technologies, or technologies yet to be developed, is also a good move in your quest for the ultimate head protection.
Replace your ski helmet:
- after a single impact with EPS foam liner
- after several impacts with an EPP liner that is looking compressed
- if you see chips or cracks in the outer shell
- to keep up with technological improvements
Before heading out there on the slopes for your ski or snowboarding session, it makes good sense to give your ski helmet a quick visual inspection for any damage. After all, helmets can easily be damaged during transportation. Ski helmets can get knocked around while in storage or being transported. Some people have ended up with damaged ski helmets simply because someone put something heavy on top of it.
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If you’re in the market for a new, better-quality helmet with EPP foam lining, then take a look at these helmets. But, if you’d be happy with a helmet for under 50USD (fully certified), then you might like one of these helmets.
How Long Do Ski Helmets Last?
So, how long do ski helmets last? Well, it depends. Some manufacturers may suggest that you replace your helmets every 3-5 years, but it will be dependent on how often you are using them. Somebody using their helmet every single day during the ski season will need to replace their helmet more frequently than those that ski one or two times per year.
One thing is for sure, though. If you get into an accident, you may need to replace your helmet immediately. However, this will be dependent on the extent of the damage, as well as the foam lining used in your helmet. Remember, if there is any visual damage to your helmet beyond a couple of scratches, then it needs to be replaced. Your life is at risk if you don’t.