What Is The Safest Ski Helmet? [2021/22 season]


When considering buying a new ski helmet, how many of us have pondered ‘What is the safest ski helmet’? We ask our friends, we search the internet, we read forums and come away more baffled than ever.

Some will say that no ski helmet can protect against concussion (so why bother), while citing articles from 2013, others will argue that one particular brand is the bee’s knees of ski helmets without offering any valid justification for their preference.

Snow skier skiing down steep slope
Willem De Meyer on Unsplash

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However, there are some common denominators to consider and some technology that can help to make things clearer in your mind when looking for that elusive, safest ski or snowboard helmet.

If you want to fast forward to the page where you can check out 8 great examples of the Safest Ski Helmets, you can follow this link.

However, if you want to know how we came to this conclusion and suggest why they could be the safest ski helmets, you are encouraged to read the entire article.

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JUMP TO :
++Ski Helmet Certification
++Are MIPS Ski Helmets Worth It?
++EPS Vs EPP Foam
++Getting The Fit Right
++Ski Helmet Ventilation
++Do Ski Helmets Expire?
++Your Own Good Judgement
++Ski Helmet Vs Snowboard Helmet
++Safest Ski Helmet Summary
++Frequently Asked Questions

The safest ski helmet is the one that fits your head properly and securely, carries appropriate safety certification, comes with MIPS or SPIN technology, has an EPP foam lining, and adjustable ventilation .

There are caveats to this argument though. For instance, if you snowboard downhill at 150 mph straight into a huge tree, you could have all the padding of the Michelin man and still end up in a hospital, if not the morgue. Let’s try to look into this question with a more rational approach rather than debate which helmet is the safest ski or snowboard helmet.

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Ski Helmet Certification

The United States has no mandatory safety standard for ski and snowboard helmets. However, there are voluntary standards such as ASTM F2040 and Snell RS-98. Snell’s RS-98 has the most stringent testing processes, however there don’t seem to be any Snell certified snow helmets available anywhere despite some being listed on Snell’s website.

In Europe, ski helmets are covered by EN-1077 (Helmets for alpine skiers and snowboarders), which was approved by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) on 17 February 2007, for all non-motorized ski and snowboard helmets sold within the European Union. EN-1077 certified helmets are also commonly found in the United States.

In Australia, there is no safety standard for ski and snowboard helmets. However, all U12, U14, U16, and FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) competitors are required to wear FIS compliant helmets in FIS and Snow Australia Series races.

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In Canada, there is CSA Z263.1 which is not mandatory but only voluntary. It was originally issued in 2008 and updated in 2014. As the Canadian Standard is not mandatory, it is not unusual to see ASTM F2040, EN-1077, or Snell RS-98 available in the Canadian market.

The word Standards written on a frosted glass window
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Take-away from the above: The European standard is the only mandatory standard and is also recognized outside of the European Union, all others are voluntary standards.

So, if you don’t have to wear a helmet, does that mean you don’t need to wear a helmet? I would argue that any helmet is better than no helmet. I would further argue that if you’re going to wear a helmet, it should have at least one of the safety standards mentioned above, EN-1077, ASTM F2040, Snell RS-98 or CSZ Z263.1

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Are MIPS Ski Helmets Worth It?

If you don’t know what MIPS is all about, you can read our post “What Is MIPS Technology?”, but if you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to read that:

MIPS is a technology that helps protect your brain from the impact of a collision when wearing a helmet. MIPS reduces the likelihood of a concussion and/or brain damage by using a slip-plane layer inside the helmet which allows the helmet to rotate slightly lessening the sudden jolt to the head/brain on impact.

Research conducted by Virginia Tech on bicycle helmets has shown that helmets with MIPS provide more protection than helmets without MIPS.

In addition to MIPS, POC helmets have developed their own system to protect against rotational impacts called SPIN, which stands for Shearing Pad INside.

However, whether a MIPS or SPIN ski helmet will reduce injury or prevent a concussion is relative to what the helmet wearer impacts with; a tree, a rock, a stationary person, a moving person, a ski lift tower, and also how fast the helmet wearer is traveling at the time of impact.

Wikipedia states that EN-1077 is tested with an impact speed of about 20 kph. Yet many skiers and snowboarders are travelling a lot faster than that. There are so many variables to be taken into consideration in the search for the safest ski or snowboard helmet.

No doubt, some people will still ask whether MIPS ski helmets are worth it or not. You will be happy to know that according to several recent research studies, helmets with either MIPS or SPIN technology do in fact reduce the risk of brain trauma and brain strain.

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EPS Vs EPP Foam

Expanded Polystyrene Foam

EPS (Expanded Polystyrene Foam)

For many years, the standard inner lining of most types of helmets has been EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) foam, which is the white polystyrene that is used for packaging inside boxes for all kinds of merchandise.

EPS has done a good job for a long time and will continue to do so, but the downside is that it compresses after lengthy use and cannot decompress or spring back to its original shape.

The same thing happens with the EPS in a helmet when it is involved in an accident.

The head suddenly pushing hard against the EPS lining compresses the EPS and it cannot spring back into shape again.

It is for this reason that EPS is said to be only useful for a single impact situation, after which the helmet should be replaced.

Expanded Polypropylene bottle caps

EPP (Expanded Polypropylene)

Enter EPP foam (Expanded Polypropylene)!

EPP is a harder, yet pliable, plastic which you will be familiar with as plastic bottle caps, stationery folders, packaging, and storage boxes.

Though it is harder than EPS, it is soft enough and pliable enough to absorb kinetic impacts in an accident, then spring back to its original shape quickly.

EPP is a multi-impact foam, meaning that it doesn’t need to be replaced after a single accident.

Both EPS and EPP are 100% recyclable.

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Getting The Fit Right

As mentioned above, the safest ski helmet is the one that fits your head properly and securely. This is the most important prerequisite in your quest for the safest helmet.

You can start by measuring your head to find the right size helmet. Read our post on ‘How To Know Your Helmet Size”. But, that’s just the beginning.

When you have the helmet on your head it should be snug, firm and not wobble around. You may need to adjust the dial at the back of the helmet to tighten it to fit better. It should be so comfortable that you won’t mind wearing it for extended periods.

Achieving a snug, safe and comfortable fit is fully covered in our article ‘How Should A Ski Helmet Fit‘.

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Ski Helmet Ventilation

Ski helmet ventilation is one of those features that gets little thought during the buying process. Adequate helmet air-flow is necessary to stop your helmet turning into a mini sauna or sweat-box on your head.

But not just any old vents will do! Due to the weather conditions in which skiers will often find themselves, you need a ski helmet with adjustable air-vents. That is, ski helmet ventilation that you can open and close as the weather conditions dictate.

Most modern ski helmets will have front vents for incoming air and rear vents for warmer air to escape, but some helmets seem to have overlooked the need for good helmet air-flow. Well-placed ventilation helps to reduce odors while increasing your level of comfort by stopping your head from overheating.

Your comfort aside, possibly the most important reason for having adequate ventilation in your ski helmet is that well-placed vents can help to prevent your goggles or visor from fogging up. Warm air escaping from your goggle vents rises up through your helmet to pass out of the rear helmet vents.

After taking all other safety precautions, the last thing you need is your goggles clouding over, dramatically increasing the risk of an accident.

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Do Ski Helmets Expire?

As mentioned above, the vast majority of ski and snowboard helmets on the market are single impact helmets, if you have an accident and your helmet takes some impact, it’s time to replace it.

Even the most expensive helmet can be weakened in a fall or if it is dropped or thrown. Don’t risk it, replace it. If the helmet straps start to fray, then it’s time to buy a new helmet. Keep in mind that nothing lasts forever.

Wear and tear, the simple act of putting on and taking off helmets, damage the comfort pads and energy absorbing foam liner over time. Helmets with worn-out pads are at least one to two sizes larger than helmets in new condition. A poorly fitted helmet makes it more likely that the helmet will shift too much or even come off the head during a crash impact. For these reasons, Snell recommends replacing helmet after five years of normal use.

The Snell Foundation

While Snell may recommend replacing your ski helmet after five years of normal use, it all depends on what is considered ‘normal use’. Ski helmets don’t actually have an expiry, use-by or best-before date, so it’s up to you to be completely honest when assessing the condition of your ski helmet.

If you ski for several months or more each year, your helmet will most likely need replacing more often than that of a twice a year skier. Also, if you are a regular skier, you will probably be wanting to upgrade your helmet every so often to keep up with the latest technology on offer anyway.

Taking extra care of your helmet and how well you store your helmet when not using it, can have a bearing on the lifespan of your helmet. During the off-season store your helmet somewhere that isn’t too hot or too cold. Before storing your helmet, wash it with warm water with a mild detergent. Be sure it is completely dry before storage.

Never leave your helmet in a hot car or anywhere in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. Periodically, check your helmet for cracks, chips or other damage. Be sure to check the condition of the chin-straps and that the straps are firmly attached to the helmet.

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Snow fields with small snow covered hills behind
Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Your Own Good Judgement

The last piece of the puzzle required for a safe helmet is not actually part of the helmet, but the wearer of the helmet itself. That is You!

A helmet can protect your head but it cannot make up for your own skiing or snowboarding experience or awareness while out there on the slopes. Only you know your true ability, so only you can make judgment calls as to whether you are capable of taking on a ski run or a tricky tree-lined downhill.

Assessing the risk is up to you, your helmet will not protect you from your own poor judgment or stupidity. Be aware of the location of rocks, trees, cliffs, and other skiers (they are just the same as car drivers, you never know which way they’re going to turn).

Don’t forget that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Just because you’ve skied this run a hundred times, doesn’t make it any less dangerous now than it was the first time you tried. Don’t be overconfident, especially if it’s just to impress your friends. It’s not worth the risk.

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Ski Helmet Vs Snowboard Helmet

When it comes to which helmet for which activity, the winter activities of skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing all come under the same classification. The approved safety standard for these activities is, as mentioned above, EN-1077, ASTM F2040, Snell RS-98 or CSZ Z263.1 depending on your location.

So, a ski helmet and a snowboard helmet are one and the same thing.

Snowboarder on steep slope wearing bright green jacket and black helmet
canva.com

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Safest Ski Helmet Summary

So to sum up, when looking for the safest ski helmet, you should be looking for the following:

  1. Ski Helmet Certification ( EN-1077, ASTM F2040, Snell RS-98 or CSZ Z263.1)
  2. MIPS or SPIN technology to protect against angled impacts.
  3. EPP foam liner.
  4. Adjustable ski helmet ventilation.
  5. Correctly sized helmet with chin strap tightened.
  6. The helmet is still in good condition.
  7. Common sense – user experience and awareness.

Now you can follow this link to check out 8 great examples of what we consider some of the Safest Ski Helmets available.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that your helmet is actually on your head. Don’t forget, heads don’t bounce! Be sure to wear a helmet!

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is MIPS SP?

MIPS Spherical is an advancement on MIPS technology by Bell Sports (Bell and Giro helmets) in partnership with MIPS. This Spherical technology replaces the original MIPS yellow slip-plane with two foam liners, an outer EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) liner and an inner EPP (Expanded Polypropylene) liner, that work together like a ball and socket to provide the necessary rotation during an impact.

2. Do MIPS snow helmets cost more than helmets without MIPS?

Yes, MIPS helmets cost a little more than a similar helmet without MIPS technology. The extra cost is quite negligible at around $20 – $30 per helmet, and research has shown it to be worth the extra few dollars.

3. Can I wear my ski helmet for snowboarding?

Yes you can. There is actually no difference in helmets for either activity. They are both ‘snow’ helmets for the activities of skiing and snowboarding.

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