By Molly Newman
You wouldn’t think of hitting the slopes without a jacket to stay warm or goggles to shield your eyes from glare. Within the next few years, another piece of safety equipment may become second nature as well: a helmet designed just for snow sports.
Though head injuries are less common than wrenched wrists, torn ACLs or broken tibias, these accidents can be especially dangerous. 60% of snow sport fatalities are the result of head injuries. In many cases, a properly fitting helmet can make the difference between a bump on the head and a full-on concussion or worse. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 44% of head injuries suffered while skiing would be made less severe by wearing a helmet, and an estimated 11 deaths per year could be prevented if all skiers wore helmets.
The word is getting out about helmets: Over the last several seasons, the proportion of skiers and snowboarders wearing them has increased from 25% in 2002–03 to 50% or more at many resorts in 2010–11. And as more states consider making helmet use mandatory for skiers under 18, a new generation is growing up wearing helmets on the slopes just as they would on a bike or in a skate park.
Protecting yourself with a snow sports helmet doesn’t mean looking like a snowbound geek any more. Whether you choose a jaw-protecting full-face model or a lightweight ¾-shell, helmets are available with eye-catching colors and patterns (or, of course, in basic skater-style black). You may be tempted to save a few dollars by making your bike helmet do double duty—but this isn’t a great idea. Snow sport helmets are insulated for warmth, and many contain vents that can be opened or closed for ventilation on warm spring days. They’re also designed to fit well when wearing ski goggles; some even contain built-in audio systems so you can bomb down the mountain while blasting your favorite tunes.
When shopping for a helmet, look for certification that it conforms to ASTM F 2040 standards, designed to protect against single-impact collisions. A few helmets also conform to the skateboarding-oriented ASTM F 1492 standard, meaning they offer protection in multiple-impact collisions (like hitting a tree, then falling and smacking your head against a rock).
Of course, just as no seatbelt can save your life in every crash, no helmet is proof against all accidents. Researchers disagree on whether helmet-wearing athletes are more or less likely to take dangerous risks. Remember that even top-tier helmets are only designed to protect against mid-speed crashes (though they can mitigate the damage from crashes at 25 mph or more), and use common sense when deciding where and how to ride.
Our Favorite Lids
Smith Variant Brim Helmet
This low profile brim helmet looks good on everyone! An air-flow system with 22 vents keeps your noggin’ cool and the Boa® Fit System dials in the perfect size every time. For men and women. $159.95 smithoptics.com
K2 Kid’s Illusion Helmet
Protect kids’ heads with this super-comfortable, high-style helmet. The K2Dialed fit system adjusts for growth spurts and guarantees a custom, slip-free fit. The integrated liner keeps heads warm and dry. For boys and girls. $89.95 k2skis.com