The Best Ski Helmets Available

2022-11-07 15:28:35 By : Ms. Sharon Liu

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The best helmets are a blend of protection, utility and dare we say, style. Here are our top picks for this ski season.

A properly fitting ski or snowboard helmet is scientifically proven to reduce the risk and severity of head injuries on the snow. But I don’t think that’s the only reason to wear one. IMO helmets are warmer and drier and more comfortable than a hat. They also work better with goggles, sealing out gaps and preventing fogging. And arguably they look better, too. No wonder just about everyone is wearing them on the slopes these days.

Helmets protect your noggin in several ways. The hard outer shell deflects sticks, rocks and ice and then disperses forces throughout the structure. Inside is material that absorbs energy. And finally, in an increasing number of helmets, a slippery liner allows the head to rotate within the helmet to soak up some of the rotational forces that often do the most damage in a crash. All together they help protect the head from abrasion and the brain, neck and spine from traumatic injuries.

But a helmet can only do so much. At high-speed head-on collisions, helmets offer limited protection. And one theory for why brain injury occurrence hasn’t changed in skiing, despite a steady increase in helmet use, is that wearing a helmet increases the wearer's perception of safety, so they take more risks. In other words, think of a helmet more like a seat belt and less like a crash pad. It’s going to help protect you in a crash, but it’s not a get-out-of-injury free card.

Manufacturers play around with lots of different materials, designs and engineering to make helmets safer, lighter and more comfortable. But there is a basic three-layer formula.

This is the part that interacts with your head. Usually, it offers a bit of insulation and has a wicking liner that pulls moisture away from your hair and skin to keep you warm. The best helmets have a removable liner so you can wash it regularly and remove it in warmer weather. Ear pads often integrate with the liner. These keep ears warm and store audio and communication chips (more about that in a bit). Ear pads are often removable as well. The next layer down is the fit system. The best ones encircle the head.

Finally, in many helmets, there’s an extra protective feature that allows the head to move within the helmet structure to absorb rotational forces. Mips is the brand name of the most common system, but there are proprietary versions. The design specifics vary — generally, it’s a slippery layer between the foam and the liner.

This is the part that does most of the impact absorbing in a crash. It’s usually made from some sort of EPS, but there are plastic tubes and various other materials in use. In a fall this is the part of the helmet doing most of the protecting. It converts kinetic energy by either absorbing and rebounding or crumpling. This can damage the helmet's integrity, but doesn’t always show up as cracks or deformities. You should always replace a helmet after a big crash.

This is the outside armor of a helmet. Its primary functions are to shield against sharp things stabbing into the foam, spreading out the impact force throughout the lid, and deflecting snow, rain and wind. It also holds the graphics or color of the helmet. This is typically a high impact ABS plastic, but it can also be carbon fibre and other tough materials.

There are many ways to put the three pieces together, but they basically break down into two processes. In-mold adheres the shell and shock absorbing material in a single process. It tends to be a little lighter. Injection-mold bonds EPS foam to the shell. This is the preferred method for combining multiple densities of protection. For most of us, the differences are insignificant. Plus these days many manufacturers combine the two techniques on different parts of the same helmet. Bottom line: don’t pick a helmet based on construction.

Most helmet manufacturers build their helmets to comply with one of two common safety standards, U.S.-based ASTM F2040 or the European CE EN1077. The standards differ in details but both ensure a high level of protection. Most stores will only carry certified helmets and it should be mentioned in any online store. You can always check by looking inside the lid for an ASTM or CE sticker.

These are the holes in the helmet that promote airflow to the goggles and your head. There are two kinds of vents. Permanent ones are open all the time - you want these around the goggles to help with air circulation. Close-able vents have a valve or lever that opens and closes them. These are great for regulating your temperature, as long as the lever is easy to find and easy to use with gloves on.

Some helmets come with a pre-installed binding for mounting a GoPro or other POV-style camera. If you love capturing your runs it’s a handy feature to have.

Yeah, you could just wear ear buds, but it’s much more comfortable to stream music from your phone into speakers in the ear pads of a helmet. There are also new communication devices, like Aleck, that allow use a chip to enable walky-talky-style chatting with buddies. Some ear pads are ready to accept the aftermarket “chips.” This means there’s a zipper-access a hollow area inside the earpad.

In general any goggle should work with any helmet. In reality, the top of the goggle and rim of the helmet often don’t line up, leaving a gap that’s cold and dorky. Beyond fit, this is the number one thing I look for before buying either a goggle or helmet. Some helmets offer a certain amount of adjustment, but there are limits. Bring your goggles with you when trying on helmets and make sure they fit nicely together. Often buying the same brand is your best bet.

A bag or box for your lid is a nice touch. It keeps it from getting scuffed and scratched and makes it easier to carry when it’s not on your head.

Any old clip works, but magnetic ones are a lot easier to put on and take off with gloves on.

The right fit is essential for getting the full protective benefit of a helmet. But even more important is a comfortable fit, because if it bugs you, you’re less likely to wear your helmet. While helmet sizing is fairly standard there is a lot of variety in how they fit a head. That’s even true with different models from the same manufacturer. Trying on a few different models of helmets is the best way to find the right lid for you.

Most helmets come in at least two different sizes and sometimes several. In store, try a few on to figure out your rough size. For online orders, take a measuring tape and measure the circumference of your noggin above your ears and over your eyebrows. Compare this number to the manufacturer’s sizing chart. It’s usually a range. Micro adjustment comes from a combination of the chin strap and volume adjustment. The latter is either a strap system that cinches around the head or from adding or removing padding. I think BOA-style dials offer the most precise and easy-to-adjust fit. Check the fit by shaking your head around without the chin strap done up. The helmet shouldn’t move. The chin strap should fit just loose of touching the skin.

As technical editor at Ski Canada Magazine, the Great White North’s largest circulation ski publication, I've tested skis — and ski equipment — every spring at my local ski hill, Mount Washington Alpine Resort for the last six years. I assemble a team of testers, weekend warriors, full-time ski instructors and ski bums to try them out. Alongside our two-day testing extravaganza, I also put helmets, poles, boots and bindings to the test on my own throughout the year, honing in on what works, what doesn't and which items are the pick of the litter.

Giro loaded its newest bucket with all the toys. The flashiest is Spherical Technology, which combines the rotational force management of Mips sleeves with the impacting absorbing foam. It does this by breaking the helmet’s padding into two layers. The outer is EPS foam to address high-speed impacts. The inner is a slightly different foam that’s better at absorbing slow speed falls. The two work like a ball and socket to allow the different layers to move 15 millimetres relative to each other to redirect rotational energy away from the brain.

Fit is adjusted with a dial at the back of the head with six centimeters of adjustment, ideal for those that like to layer a hat under the helmet. Opening and closing the 14 vents further dials in the warmth. The lid also adjusts vertically so it integrates with lots of different goggles without leaving a gap. And it has a fleece liner treated with an antimicrobial and a magnetic chin strap.

Giro puts it all together with a hybrid construction technique. There’s an injected upper hard shell combined with an in-mold lower shell and side walls. It all adds up to a sweet-looking helmet that leaves little to be desired.

Sweet Protection has had a Grimnir helmet in its line up for a long time, but this one is new and improved. For starters, they swapped in carbon fiber for the ABS plastic shell. It now weighs 23 percent less than its previous iteration and the matt weave exterior looks awesome.

But it’s more than just looks. The carbon fiber is stronger than ABS, offering better impact protection and shock dispersal. Under the shell is 2Vi, Sweet Protection’s proprietary absorption system. It combines foam padding with a two-layer Mips system that better absorbs violent, multi-directional rotational forces of a bad crash.

The dial fit system adjusts the height of the liner as well as the circumference for a better fit, while the snap-in liner is soft and warm. A magnet buckle with a mechanical latch makes the chin strap a snap to open and close, but also secure. The ear pads remove and are ready for audio chips.

We’ve skied in the Grimnir a bunch and love not only the look of this helmet but also the comfort. The liner seems to be just right for most conditions and the 10 vents make it easy to dial in some cool air when needed.

No vents, big visor, fun colors. But the Baker is not just about style. The simple lid has an ABS exterior that wraps right behind the head and extends way out in front. The big visor will protect goggles from those soggy days and drippy chair lifts. There are no vents, which is an issue if you plan on skiing well into spring. But the sleek design carries over to a svelte weight and a low profile size. The Baker has full certification, even though it doesn’t look it. The helmet is noticeably smaller in width, which will translate into fewer clunks with the chairlift bar and less strain on the neck. Mips protection is optional, but all the Bakers have an easy-to-use dial-fit system that cinches the lid with a few twists.

Beyond the lack of vents, it has everything we look for in a helmet. Combined with the lightweight, it’s a great little lid. Considering it costs less than $80, a fraction of some of the other helmets here, the Baker is a solid value.

The long name is the first hint that there’s a lot going on in this helmet. For starters, it’s Salomon’s take on a visor helmet, meaning there’s a goggle built in. But where most visors are a lens sheet that doesn’t meet the face, leaving an annoying gap, Salomon uses more of an actual goggle shape with soft foam. Instead of a stretchy strap, it’s attached to a track that retracts into the helmet, sucking the goggle into the face. The bit of pressure and malleable foam helps create a seal - if the fit is right. We found it fit more faces than most visor helmets, but it won’t fit everyone. The Sigma lens is photochromic, meaning it automatically adjusts tint, and boosts blue and red wavelengths, while subduing greens, for better contrast.

The helmet itself is also loaded with technology. The fit system floats. Spinning the Boa dial tightens or loosens the liner in all directions, rather than just at the back, for a better fit. The chin strap is magnetic. The removable liner is merino wool for warmth, breathability and no stink. Eight vents open and close with a single lever on the top of the lid.

Safety comes from two systems. A Mips sleeve absorbs rotational forces. And Salomon’s proprietary EPS 4D is a network of independent pods of foam that absorb impacts from oblique and vertical directions.

Salomon puts it all together with a hybrid construction: injection ABS upper shell and an in-mold lower shell for extra ventilation and weight saving. On the head, it’s a super comfortable helmet and goggle combo that’s warm, safe and easy to use. It is the best visor helmet we’ve tried, with the ease of one-piece integration, that makes a visor helmet enticing, without the fit issues and fighter pilot looks of most visor lids.

Increasingly skiers and snowboarders are wearing helmets not just for the way down, but also for the way up - at least in the backcountry. The Backland is for those skiers. One study found 32 percent of avalanche fatalities among backcountry skiers happen during the ascent. A helmet wouldn’t have saved them all, but it could save some.

For backcountry riders to bring a helmet, let alone wear one while climbing, it has to be lightweight and well ventilated. Atomic used in-mold construction and ditched an insulating liner to cut grams. The barebones liner isn’t as cozy as the other helmets here, but it is more comfortable than most rock climbing helmets, which we never complain about wearing. And it is so well vented we didn’t overheat even on a sweaty bootpack. On descents and when it’s cold, we add a light beanie to keep our ears warm. The Backland’s dial-style adjustment system offers plenty of room for even thick hats.

Despite its uber weight, the Backland UL is safety first. It has two layers of head protection: multiple densities of EPS foam and a Mips-style liner system for rotational forces. Atomic says the combination provides 40 percent more impact protection than industry standards. And it’s enough to garner the Backland UL certification in skiing, rock climbing and cycling.

For the weight conscious, helmets don’t get much lighter. And having one lid to rule all seasons will clear out a lot of clutter in our gear closet.

This helmet looks similar to the others on this page and the shop wall, but it uses a different style of impact protection - Koroyd, which borrows the idea of crumple zones from car safety and technology developed by the aerospace industry.

Koroyd is essentially sheets of plastic, straw-like tubes welded together to create a honeycomb-type structure. In a crash the cylinders collapse on themselves and each other, absorbing the kinetic energy. It’s thinner than the foam required to provide the same level of impact protection and, because it’s 95 percent air, is naturally very breathable.

Smith mixes Koroyd in high-impact zones with foam in other spots. The Mission also has Mips for handling rotational forces and an ABS plastic shell. The complex mix required a two-part construction that combined both in-mold and injection-mold processes.

A liner and closable vents allow for excellent thermoregulation. And the fit is equally personalize-able. A rotary dial adjusts within a five-centimeter circumference range and there are different attachment points for the liner structure, so it can be moved vertically and horizontally for fit and goggle integration customization.