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How To Choose the Right Helmet for Skiing and Snowboarding

Helmets are essential for skiing and riding safely. Here’s how to pick the right one for you.

Like your skis, boots, and poles (or your board and boots), a helmet should be at the top of your equipment list when you go skiing or riding. It’s an essential piece of safety gear, and it’ll protect your head during falls or collisions with trees, rocks, and other obstacles. A good helmet will also keep you comfortable: Today’s helmets are warmer than ever, and many are adjustable for better airflow come spring. Here’s how to find the right one for you.

Consider the Conditions 

Skiing and snowboarding are winter activities, so snowsport-specific helmets are designed for warmth. But the amount you’ll need depends on whether you’re nailing a first descent in Antarctica or a schussing corn on a spring afternoon in Aspen. Consider the conditions you’ll be riding in most often, and use that to guide your shopping. In addition, many helmets offer closable vents and removable earmuff pads so they’ll be comfortable on both cold and warmer days.

Find the Right Fit 

Before shopping, measure your head circumference using a flexible tape measure or a piece of string (wrap the string around your head at its widest point, cut it at that length, and measure the string). Review the manufacturer’s sizing chart and select a helmet that fits your head size. Most ski and snowboard helmets have an adjustable fit (via a rear dial or additional padding), which helps you fine-tune the sizing. The helmet should feel snug but not uncomfortable, all of the padding should rest against your head, and it should stay in place when you shake your head or push on the helmet. 

Chin Strap

The chin strap should also be snug yet comfortable. No more than two fingers should fit between your chin and the strap once tightened. Pro tip: If you yawn, the helmet should pull down on your head. If it doesn’t, tighten up the chin strap.

Goggles

“Gaper gap” is more than a fashion faux pas; it also creates a cold spot on your forehead between your goggles and helmet. Avoid this by trying your helmet on with your goggles. Together, they should create a seamless fit without any space between the helmet brim and the top of your goggles. However, the helmet shouldn’t sit so low on your head that it pushes your goggles down.

Helmet Materials & Safety Tech

Most ski and snowboard helmets are half-shell helmets: They have removable ear pads inside a hard outer shell and soft liners that are (usually) washable. Full-shell helmets have hard sides over the ears and are typically used for racing.

In addition, most helmets use a two-layer system for protection: a hard outer shell made of impact-resistant plastic, and an inner layer of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam that compresses to dissipate impact forces. More advanced technologies further reduce impact forces to lower the chances of sustaining a concussion or other head injury if you crash. These are the main ones to know:

MIPS

MIPS, or Multi-directional Impact Protection System, can be found in many brands’ helmets. It consists of a thin liner between your helmet’s foam and your head that’s designed to slide a few millimeters upon impact. This reduces rotational forces by spreading the brunt of the impact.

WaveCel

WaveCel helmets have an additional mesh layer of molded plastic that will glide, crumple, and flex on impact to reduce rotational forces and dissipate the overall force of the impact.

SPIN

An acronym for Shearing Pad Inside, SPIN is a proprietary design by helmet maker POC. It utilizes interior silicone pads that shear during a collision to soak up rotational forces and blunt the impact.

Safety Certifications

Make sure your helmet is ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) certified, which signifies it meets industry safety standards in the U.S. Some helmets might also be marked CE, which means it meets the equivalent European standards.

Ventilation 

Most ski and snowboard helmets have vents to shed heat and create cooling airflow around your head. Many also have venting near the brow to promote air circulation in your goggles and keep them from fogging up. Higher end models employ adjustable vents: Using a switch or toggle on the helmet, you can open and close them to get more or less airflow.

Audio 

Audio compatibility has become a big part of helmet design. Many helmets now come equipped with pre-installed headphones in the ear pads and built-in control toggles for volume and music playback. Many also come with zippered or velcro compartments in the ear pads to accommodate wired or wireless earbuds.

Color and Style 

Protection is more important than fashion, but get a helmet that looks good—you’ll be more likely to wear it. (A helmet that sits in your closet won’t do anything to keep you safe.)

Cost 

Protecting your head is a worthwhile investment, but everyone has different budgets to work with. Decide how much you’re willing to spend and then aim to get the best protection possible in that price range.

Replace  

Replace your helmet after a big impact and/or after several seasons of use. Never buy a used helmet—it’s often impossible to tell if a used lid has internal foam damage.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.