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.
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.
* The safest ski helmet needn’t be the most expensive helmet.
* Proper fit is the key to better head protection on the slopes. Not tight, not loose.
* Wearing a helmet that is either ASTM F2040 or EN-1077 certified is strongly encouraged.
* No helmet will protect you from your own poor judgment on the slopes.
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What Is The Safest Ski Helmet?
The safest ski helmet is the one that fits your head properly and securely, carries appropriate safety certification, has built-in protection against rotational impacts (e.g MIPS, SPIN, WaveCel, etc.), 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.
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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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.
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
Are MIPS Ski Helmets Worth It?
If you don’t know what MIPS is all about, you can read our post “MIPS Helmet 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 traveling 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.
In recent years, the popularity of ski helmets with MIPS has been rising year on year to a point that most manufacturers include at least some type of rotational impact protection by default.
Though 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.
Ski Helmet Safety Ratings
As mentioned above, Virginia Tech has been safety rating bicycle helmets for several years now which has raised awareness among both manufacturers and consumers of the need for safer helmets. This in turn has resulted in more and more bicycle helmets receiving a 5-Star rating.
In early February 2022, Virginia Tech published the results of their first tests and ratings of Snowsport Helmets using what they refer to as the STAR protocol. In this, their first round of ski helmet safety ratings, 35 helmets were tested producing the following results:
- 5-Stars = 2 helmets
- 4-Stars = 8 helmets
- 3-Stars = 11 helmets
- 2-Stars = 6 helmets
- 1-Star = 8 helmets
At first glance, you may think that the result is pretty dismal, but it’s not. This result is actually quite good being the first round of ski helmet safety ratings, and considering that quite a number of well-known brands were not submitted, and the major brands that were represented submitted only a small number of ski helmets.
What we can expect in the years to come is the number of helmets tested will increase exponentially each year, and along with that the number of helmets that achieve a 5 or 4-Star rating will also increase. This is a great thing for the improved safety of snowsport helmets in the years ahead.
EPS Vs EPP 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.
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.
EPP is a multi-impact foam, meaning that it doesn’t need to be replaced after a single accident.
There is nothing inherently wrong with EPS as a helmet liner or for absorbing kinetic energy from a head suddenly pressing against it as in an accident. The only downside of EPS compared to EPP is that once EPS is compressed then it is time to replace your helmet.
So, if you are the type of person who is prone to crashing into trees or habitually falling over then you would be better of with a ski helmet with an EPP liner.
Getting The Fit Right
As mentioned earlier, 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 your current head size. Next, take a look at the Ski Helmet Size Chart to match your head size with the Make and Model of the helmet you intend to buy.
Finding the right size helmet can be difficult for some people, especially those folks with a larger than standard head size. However, if you have a large head you can breathe a sigh of relief as there are fully certified ski helmets as large as 67cm (26.4 inches).
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.
VIDEO: How To Measure For A Ski Helmet
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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 from 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.
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. This is covered in more detail in ‘How Long Do Ski Helmets Last‘.
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.
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.
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.
Safest Ski Helmet Summary
So to sum up, when looking for the safest ski helmet, you should be looking for the following:
- Ski Helmet Certification ( EN-1077, ASTM F2040, Snell RS-98 or CSZ Z263.1)
- MIPS or SPIN technology to protect against angled impacts.
- EPP foam liner.
- Adjustable ski helmet ventilation.
- Correctly sized helmet with chin strap tightened.
- The helmet is still in good condition.
- Common sense – user experience and awareness.
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!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is MIPS SP?
A. 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.
Q. Do MIPS snow helmets cost more than helmets without MIPS?
A. Yes, MIPS helmets cost a little more than a similar helmet without MIPS technology. The extra cost is quite negligible at around $10 – $20 per helmet, and research has shown it to be worth the extra few dollars.
Q. Can I wear my ski helmet for snowboarding?
A. 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.
I hope we have covered the subject of ‘what is the safest ski helmet’ to your satisfaction. If you enjoyed this article, take a look at the related reads below for some more interesting reads!