If you’re in the market for a new helmet and aren’t sure what you should be looking out for, then let this article serve as your guide to the complex world of the best ski helmets.
When it comes to ski helmets, it can be a minefield trying to choose the right one. You can’t put a price on your head, so skimping on quality for a good deal isn’t the right choice. But how do you know what’s good value, what’s going to give you the protection you need, and at the end of the day, what ski helmet to choose? With prices starting low and getting, quite frankly, astronomical at the top end, where do you even begin? Well, luckily, right here at this article. By the end, you’ll have a solid handle on ski helmets and can buy with confidence ready for the coming season.
If you’re in the market for a ski helmet, then it pays to know the ins and outs. Once upon a time, a helmet was just a helmet, but with new technology seeping into the industry, safety tech has progressed further than ever before. And some of it comes with an added price tag. So buckle up and let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the best helmets.
Helmet construction is the biggest influence on the price and suitability of a ski helmet. Some practices have become standard in the industry for safety reasons, but there’s still some variation in the different types. Helmets are broken down into ‘layers’, consisting of the outer shell which protects the wearer from penetrative impacts, a foam layer that acts as a shock-absorbing barrier to the skull, and the liner, which ensures a secure and comfortable fit.
The shell of the helmet refers to the hard outer layer, and is often made from ABS or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. You can see now why they abbreviate it. ABS is a tough and lightweight thermoplastic perfect for use in high impact sports. Some brands utilise their own versions of the ‘shell’, with companies like Bern using what they deem ‘thin shell construction, made from ABS, and Anon, who use an ‘Endura’ construction, also made from ABS. In Anon’s case, their Endura construction refers to the combination of the ABS shell and the foam inside it.
Foam is an ambiguous word at the best of times. And when used to describe the inner shell of a helmet, it’s even less descriptive. The actual thing they use is called EPS foam, or expanded polystyrene, which is a closed-cell insulation. This type of foam has a rigid, lightweight structure that has amazing compressive strength despite its weight, making it perfect to use in helmets where weight is the enemy!
The liner of a helmet is the comfort element. Usually made from a breathable polyester microfleece and porous foam combination for warmth and ventilation, it helps ensure a secure fit to the head, which is one of the most important safety elements of all. Modern liners will offer some sort of size adjustment to give the best fit, and are usually removable, have removable ear-pads, and can be washed to keep them clean and odour free (your head sweats a lot!).
Ventilation is an important part of snow helmet construction. Humans lose a lot of heat through their heads, and without proper ventilation, this heat will cause moisture buildup and affect your body’s ability to thermoregulate. Some helmets will have vents, others won’t, and some may even have adjustable or closable ventilation!
If you’re looking for a new helmet, it’s best to try them on. Helmets come in male, female, and unisex fits; some brands fit better than others. Head shape varies greatly from person to person. If you buy a helmet that doesn’t fit perfectly, feel comfortable, and provide protection to the head's top, back, front, and sides, then it’s not the right helmet for you! Your helmet should sit nice and low on the head, and shouldn’t be easy to move back and forth.
Due to their adjustability, most ski and snowboard helmets come in size ranges and are generally designed to be worn on a bare head without a beanie. Some riders opt to remove the liner or wear a skate or bike helmet without a winter lining to accommodate the use of a beanie. You should never size up to be able to wear a beanie under your helmet as this means your helmet is too big for your head and could move while you crash, diminishing its protection!
When it comes to ski helmets, it can be tricky to choose the right one! It doesn’t just boil down to what safety ratings they have, you’ll also need to take into account the fit and construction, as well as the materials and even special features like MIPS. So in case you're looking for a recommenation, here's out favourite ski helmet this season:
The Macon is a staple helmet in the Bern range and comes from their All-Season category. That means it’s rated and built for both winter and summer shredding, and comes with a pop-in winter and summer liner that can be swapped out on the fly. We also love Bern helmets for their bombshell construction and fit, meaning they offer a sleek, low-profile look and sit lower on the head for enhanced protection on the side and back of the skull.
The Macon offers a top-vented design to keep you cool while riding, along with a BOA style tightening mechanism to dial in the perfect fit. You’ll also be treated to a dual foam and hardshell layering, equipped with MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system), which helps guard against glancing and non-direct impacts for better protection. Bern helmets all come with the best safety ratings, too, so you can ride with confidence. There’s a reason the team here ride Bern, and it’s because they rock!
While nearly every helmet will measure up to common safety standards (which we list below), but some have extra features that mean more protection on the mountain.
MIPS is the most famous of the ‘safety features’ and is now in helmets worldwide for all sorts of sports. From snowboarding to skateboarding to downhill biking to skydiving! MIPS standard for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. Inside the helmet, there’s a specific layer designed to ‘break’ on impact, allowing the helmet's shell to move slightly in the direction of the impact.
This ability for the shell to move means your head doesn’t have to. It vastly reduces the sudden directional force on the brain during non-direct impacts (anything hitting the helmet at an angle). It is hailed as a huge leap forward in safety technology. It was even designed by a neurosurgeon called Hans von Holst, so you know it’s good!
SPIN is POC’s own take on MIPS and stands for Shearing Pad INside. This works on the same principle, with a layer inside designed to ‘shear’ and then resolidify instantly in order to allow the helmet to move, which again tries to mitigate sudden directional force on the brain. Both are very good and neither has proven superior!
This is the fine print. A helmet is a piece of safety equipment and thus must meet certain safety standards. You know those cryptic looking numbers and letters you see on product listings? Here's what they actually mean:
The 1077B safety standards are used across road cycling, snow sports, and many other activities and are the baseline safety standard for helmets, ensuring adequate protection from impacts.
The new standard in safety, the 1078B is what all snow and cycle helmets must pass to be certified. If you see a rating like +A1:2012L: after it, as is common in POC’s helmets, this shows that the product scored a +A1 result in the 2012 standard test — the best a helmet can score!
A safety standard developed specifically for the stresses and dangers of snow sports, the ASTM test is gaining popularity in the snow helmet world. This certification is one step closers to ensuring maximum safety against the specific dangers of skiing and snowboarding that may not apply to other sports.
CPSC stands for Consumer Product Safety Commission, the US governing body that oversees the effectiveness of safety equipment developed and sold in the US. You may not see this rating on helmets not made or designed in the US, but if you do, it just shows you that it’s passed the government’s safety standards and is fit for use in its proposed activity!
When you’re sizing your ski helmet it’s always important to ensure a snug fit without a beanie on. Proper helmet fit ensures fuller coverage of the head, and prevents the helmet from moving or slipping during a fall, which reduces the amount of protection it affords. Never size up or down for ‘looks’ as it’s, quite simply, dangerous!
If you need to measure your head, then you’ll need an old-school soft tape measure or a piece of string (that doesn’t stretch!). From the middle of your forehead, stretch the tape or string around your head, over your ears, so that it goes directly over the largest part of the back of the head. There’s a bit that sticks out and it’s important to go right over the pointy bit to ensure that you’re measuring the largest circumference of your head. This is the size you need to use for your helmet. The tape or string should be snug but not tight.
This question comes up quite a lot. When you’re thinking about safety, fit is very important. And just like every other part of the human body, each is unique. But it doesn’t end there. While all men’s skulls are different, and all women’s skulls are different, men’s and women’s skulls are also different, too.
Men have generally larger skulls than women with a greater thickness, too. Men’s skulls are also generally wider, have a more domed shape on top, and have a sloping forehead versus a more vertical forehead found in women. As such, how can ski helmets be unisex if there’s differences like these at work?
This is where the liner comes into its own. When looking for a great ski helmet for men, once you’ve dispensed with the construction, safety features, and all that malarky, you’ll want to find one that fits the best. Each brand has a different fit, and some may work better than others. For example, Anon helmets generally feel like they sit on top of my head rather than protecting it, and Smith helmets are a little wide for me. Bern fits the best, which is why I use those. Guys with wider heads may find Bern helmets too narrow, and will like Smith helmets better!
If you’re searching for a great ski helmet for women, then you’ll probably want to find a helmet with a slightly narrower, and deeper fit. This will allow for better protection of the front and back of the head. Though you’ll likely need to try a few on before choosing! POC are known for their deep fit helmets, and their liners are BOA, like most other brands, so once you have the right coverage, you can dial in the tightness then.
When it comes to choosing the best helmet for the 2023 season, you can focus on a few core concepts to help you make the right decision: needs, tech, fit. Firstly, what do you need it for? If it’s just some relaxed resort laps on the groomers, and you’re not going near the park or backcountry, then you’ll likely be fine going for something at the lower end of the budget scale. While if you’re hitting big kickers, sending rails, and dropping pillows in the backcountry, then spending a little extra for that added protection is a good choice! But overall, it’s important to find a helmet that offers a good, secure, snug fit that covers the front, back, and sides of the skull. A good fit ensures that the helmet can do what it’s designed to, and keep your head safe during a fall.
Some riders go without helmets and think it’s cool to do so! But you only need to look at the history of pro snowboarding and skiing to see that even professionals can injure themselves and that when it comes down to it, being protected is far safer than looking ‘cool’ — especially when the people who decide what that is are dumb enough to ride the mountain without a helmet!
There are so many options and looks around that you can be sure to find something that you find pleasing to the eye as well as one that offers solid protection on the mountain.