The helmet is every skier’s first and most faithful companion, be they an Olympic athlete or an enthusiast. As more and more new technologies are developed, the scope of potential options in terms of the range of ski helmets broadens too, making it an increasingly complicated decision.
But what do you really need to focus on when you choose a new helmet? What aspects differentiate a competition product from a more versatile one that can be used in any context? Together, let’s explore all the elements to be analyzed with care when we try to navigate the world of ski helmets.
The first, fundamental characteristic that allows us to define a ski helmet’s intended use is the shell material. This can be carbon fiber, composite fibers, polycarbonate or incorporate a solid ABS ring surrounding the skier’s head.
Models with fiber shells are the ones most oriented to racing use, and worn by athletes in competitions. They’re designed to withstand the most significant stresses to be found on the track and to take performance to the highest level. Carbon fiber, specifically, is a material with high mechanical resistance, a capacity that allows it to withstand great stress without breaking. With carbon fiber, great safety levels can be achieved with limited thicknesses, so that the weight can be very low.
The specific qualities of composite fibers are similar to those of carbon fibers, but the thicknesses required in shell design are slightly higher. This means that the helmet will be slightly heavier, but remain in the range of ultra-high-performance helmets for racing.
The most versatile models, designed for all-round use on the slopes, have shells made of polycarbonate, a plastic with the advantage of being easily processed, for a finished product significantly simpler to obtain compared to fiber. The most modern helmets of this type incorporate a ring structure made of ABS, a high-strength thermoplastic, which protects the head at the most exposed points. The rest of the shell remains composed of polycarbonate alone, in order to achieve the perfect balance of protection and low weight.
There are two types of ski helmet fastening systems. The most modern and advanced models, including racing models, feature micrometric closure, a notched tab that slides into the closing mechanism. It’s very practical to operate even with gloves on, and can be released by just pulling the lever on the mechanism itself.
The simplest closure has a buckle, which is also durable, practical and easy to lock and release even while wearing gloves.
Precise fit is a key element in comfort and safety. That’s why the most modern and versatile models feature fit adjustment systems that allow you to personalize the fit of the helmet down to the millimeter. These adjustments can be made easily using a rotor in the nape area, an action that can be performed in an instant even with gloves and the helmet already on, to guess the right circumference the first time.
Racing models, which focus less on comfort and more on performance, are conventionally more essential in an attempt to limit every possible gram. That’s why they don’t feature these adjustments, and that’s why it’s even more important to choose the right size. So trying the helmet before buying it is warmly recommended.
Proper ventilation is decisive in terms of comfort and, ultimately, safety, above all on sunny days when the temperature gets really high. It means that designing functional air channels isn’t a question of whims and not a luxury either. Keeping your head cool at all times helps maintain peak concentration and avoids distraction due to a lack of comfort.
The most versatile helmets, designed for extended use, feature particularly advanced ventilation systems made up of air vents on the front of the shell, internal ducts and rear outlets. Air entering from the front is channeled into a gap above the head and conveys excess moisture and heat outside through the rear openings.
It’s also important that the air vents and entire internal ventilation system are designed and structured so that snow and water don’t come into contact with the head, even when skiing in the toughest weather conditions.
The more sporty models tend to depart from this idea, since they’re designed for the short runs and high intensity of competition, rather than long days on the slopes. Staying cool is still key, but the shells, in composite fibers in this case, are usually more dedicated to aerodynamics with fewer openings.
The attention dedicated to producing the interior is another element linked not only to comfort, but to protection as well. Wearing a helmet that doesn’t cause the slightest discomfort even hours later is a major aid to concentration, on which skiers’ safety depends directly. It means that helmet interiors need to feature highly breathable materials, capable of effectively wicking sweat away from skiers’ heads. The padding also needs to be lined with anti-bacterial and anti-odor fabrics.
The ergonomics of helmets also result from high-quality interiors. Thermoformed padding further enhances comfort and allows for greater precision in fit, so it’s perfect even right in the thick of the action.
MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) has been the ultimate oblique impact protection system for a decade. This type of impact results in rotational head acceleration, among the main causes of severe brain damage according to the latest studies in the sector. Oblique, or angular, impacts are the ones that occur most frequently in real life. It’s actually rare for an impact to occur perfectly perpendicular to the surface that absorbs it.
The MIPS insert is very simple to operate. It aims to rotate the head inside the helmet, helping it to slide in relation to the outer shell through a sliding insert. This sliding dissipates some of the force of the impact, so the overall intensity of the impact transmitted to the head is drastically reduced.
Helmets that incorporate this solution, which increases the protective safety, can be distinguished immediately through the yellow color of the insert, quickly identifiable by looking inside the helmet.
It’s a good idea to also pay attention to the homologations for a helmet when buying a new one. They guarantee its level of protection. Certifications differ from country to country, depending on the regulations and safety standards determined by the various legislations.
Among the most common homologation standards is the European CE EN 1077, Type A or Type B, where A indicates a full coverage area while B doesn’t include the ears and allows for more ventilation. There are also the American ASTM (American Society of Testing Materials) F-2040 and – required for racing use only – FIS RH 2013.
These homologations guarantee that the helmet you buy meets excellent safety requirements and certifies a high degree of protection.
Whether you’re looking for a performance-oriented model or a more versatile helmet for spending whole days on the slopes, it’s essential to have a system for navigating the increasingly vast range of ski helmets on offer. From carbon to composite fibers, from polycarbonate to ABS, then the various fastening systems, ventilation channels, homologations and much more, there’s a huge number of aspects to bear in mind. As technology progresses, the range of potential options gets wider and wider, so it’s recommended to get hold of information to make an informed decision.