How to Choose a Ski Helmet

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Understanding how to choose a ski helmet is important as it could end up being the most crucial piece of ski gear you ever buy. A single high impact collision to your head can cause severe injuries, even death. While these instances are not very common, there really isn’t any reason to not wear a helmet and reduce your risk.

In addition to providing safety, ski helmets keep your head warm, provide a place to store your headphones and can be used to mount an action camera so that you can capture the epic memories on the slopes. So, what should you be looking for in a ski helmet? In this article, we will discuss how to choose a ski helmet for you or your family based on a number of key considerations.

In This Post

The Importance of Ski Helmets

Skiing is inherently a dangerous sport, and therefore wearing a helmet is a smart decision to protect yourself. Some skiers will say they don’t want to wear a helmet for fashion reasons. But in this day and age, ski helmets are sleeker and have cooler graphic designs than they did in the past. Many skiers consider their helmet to be part of their look and appreciate the extra comfort and safety features.

Should You Wear a Helmet Skiing?

Yes, you should absolutely wear a helmet while skiing. On average, an intermediate or advanced skier travels anywhere from 20 – 50 mph. Striking your head against an object, such as a tree, rock, or even the hard packed snow, at those speeds can easily cause severe head, neck, or spine injuries. Buying kids’ ski helmets is especially important to consider, as their skulls and brains are still developing. Risks increase even further in the terrain park or any other instance where the skier is moving at high speeds or falling from tall heights.

Just like any other piece of gear in your ski setup, helmets also provide warmth. Your ears tend to get cold easily, so having a helmet can solve this. While winter hats and beanies are often used to stay cozy, helmets do an even better job at retaining that warmth while on the mountain. In addition, helmets are constructed to be quite comfortable these days and remain stable on your head as you’re skiing.

Can You Just Wear a Bike Helmet for Skiing?

Ski helmets are held to a different safety standard than bike helmets are. Additionally, ski helmets have ear coverage, moisture wicking liners, and are made of materials that hold up better in cold temperatures. For those reasons, it is not recommended to replace a ski helmet with a bike helmet. However, if that is your only possible option, something is better than nothing.

Do Most Skiers Wear Helmets?

According to a study conducted by the National Ski Areas Association during the 2019-20 ski season, about 86% of skiers and snowboarders in the U.S. wore helmets at designated ski areas. Helmet usage has increased over time and has proven to reduce head injuries. Ski helmets are most popular amongst younger kids and tend to decrease in usage with age. The age group least likely to wear a helmet is 18 – 24 years old.

Helmet hanging on ski rack

Ski Helmet Sizing & Fit

When figuring out how to choose a ski helmet, the most important factor is the fit. Your ski helmet needs to be the correct size to prevent injury, while also being comfortable to wear all day.

How to Choose the Right Size Ski Helmet

Measure the circumference of your head by wrapping measuring tape around your head above your ears and eyebrows. If you can, get the measurement in centimeters, as this is how most helmet sizing is designated. Align your head size with the appropriate helmet size according to the manufacturer’s sizing chart. If you are right on the cusp, it’s best to size up.

A ski helmet should feel snug without feeling too tight. It should sit flush on top of your head, with no extra space. The helmet also needs to be far enough down to protect your forehead (usually around an inch above the eyebrows). A good way to check the size of your helmet is to wear it unbuckled and shake your head back and forth. If the helmet shakes separately from your head, the fit is too large. If you feel any pressure points, squeezing, or your head doesn’t fit all the way into the helmet, then the fit is too small.

Adjustable Helmet Systems

  • Adjustable Wheel or “BOA” Systems These helmets have a small wheel in the back that can help dial in the fit even further. Simply turn the dial to tighten or loosen the helmet to fit your head. It’s quick and easy to use and can help you get those last small adjustments needed for a perfect fit.
  • In Form Fit
    Similar to adjustable wheel systems, in form fit helmets can not only adjust the tightness of the helmet, but also the vertical placement of the helmet. This can be a wonderful feature if you suffer from what is known as a “gaper gap” in ski lingo. If you have a slight gap between your goggles and your helmet, you can adjust the vertical position of the helmet to eliminate the gap (and thus look less dorky).
  • Removable Padding
    The cheapest way to adjust your ski helmet is through the removable padding of the inner liner. Adding or removing pads adjusts the thickness inside your helmet, which changes how tightly it fits on your head. This technique is especially popular with skiers who like to wear a beanie underneath their helmet.
  • Air Fit
    Some helmets have an inflatable pouch that sits at the back of your head. The pouch can be inflated and deflated to help you find the perfect fit and alleviate pressure points.

Compatibility with Goggles

The top of your goggles should touch up against the brow of your helmet. There should NOT be a gap that exposes your forehead. This gap is a common mistake that occurs when either the helmet or goggles are too small. As briefly mentioned above, this is called the “gaper gap” and will earn you a one-way ticket to being laughed at by the locals. Take the time to get your sizing right.

Knowing how to keep ski goggles on your helmet is also something to consider. Most helmets have a buckle in the back that secures your goggles to your helmet. You should take advantage of this feature as it keeps the goggle straps centered on your helmet and prevents them from sliding around. If your goggles aren’t secured to your helmet, they could fall off and get lost or slide out of position.

Skier with goggles strapped onto ski helmet

Wearing a Winter Hat or Beanie

There is no specific way to wear your helmet with a winter hat or beanie. Many skiers wear their helmet without an additional hat, but this is personal preference. There is an increasing trend to wear either a thin skull cap or beanie, along with the goggle straps, underneath the helmet. Although there are no explicit reasons to not adopt this style, it’s a good idea to double check the fit of everything before hitting the slopes if you plan on wearing your helmet this way.

Components of a Ski Helmet

Visor

1 of 9

Shell

2 of 9

Air Vents

3 of 9

Ear Pad

4 of 9

Strap

5 of 9

Inner Liner

6 of 9

Audio

7 of 9

Goggle Mount

8 of 9

Adjustable Air Vent Slider

9 of 9

Types of Ski Helmets

In-Mold

  • Made by attaching a thin, rigid outer shell to a shock absorbing foam
  • The shell collapses on heavy impacts and keeps the foam in place, reducing rebound within the helmet
  • Relatively simple design makes this type of helmet very lightweight

Hard Shell

  • Made with thicker and tougher ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) plastic
  • The plastic is formed and then glued onto a pre-molded hard foam liner
  • Design offers sound protection at reasonable prices

Hybrid Shell

  • Constructed using a combination of both the in-mold and hard shells
  • An in-mold design is used with the thicker plastic used in hard shells applied only to the most important, high impact areas
  • With this design, skiers get the best aspects of both kinds of helmet shells

MIPS

(Multi-Directional Impact Protection System)
  • Built with an inner layer of foam that can move independently of the outer shell, which allows some of the rotational impact force to be absorbed
  • The design ultimately reduces impact and reduces the likelihood of concussion and other brain injury
  • This advancement comes at a price, as MIPS helmets are more expensive than other helmet types

When Should You Replace Your Ski Helmet?

If you have a significant fall or crash, you should replace your ski helmet. Most helmets are built for single impact, meaning that the EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam construction requires a replacement after a significant fall or crash. EPS foam used in helmets tends to compact and crack upon impact. A few helmets are marketed as “muli-impact”, however, it’s important not to be led astray by that term. Multi-impact helmets can withstand a few mild to moderate crashes but should still be replaced after any significant crash. 

If you have used the same ski helmet for five seasons, it’s time to replace it. It is recommended to replace your ski helmet every 3-5 years of use because the materials begin to break down. Even if you are a careful skier and have not fallen much, you should still replace your helmet after its fifth season of use. Exposure to cold temperatures, sweat, and cleaning or hair product chemicals can also contribute to the breakdown of the materials, in addition to the effects of impacts.

Final Thoughts

A helmet is an important piece of ski gear and can potentially be life saving. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with the different designs so that you know how to choose a ski helmet that will provide the best protection and comfort. With the variety of options, there is no reason to sacrifice safety just to look good on the mountain. So, please be safe and wear your helmet while you’re out on the slopes! If you’re still unsure how to choose a ski helmet that is best for you, head over to your local ski shop to get additional advice and try some on. 

What type of helmet do you plan on buying? What’s the most important feature to you? Let us know in the comments below! 

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