How to Find the Best Ski Helmet

Published on 04/21/2023 · 19 min readSki Expert Gunnar O. walks through the details of how to find the perfect helmet for you including how to determine the right size, features to look for, and more!
Gunnar O, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Gunnar O

Photo by Maarten Duinevel

First and foremost, choosing a ski helmet should be about selecting a product that offers the best fit and has proper safety certifications for recreational snow sports. Once you have narrowed down your selection of helmets, you can pick a helmet that offers the additional features you prefer, such as weight, ventilation, adjustments, color, or other features.

Your Helmet Expert

Hey there! My name is Gunnar, and I am a Winter Sports Expert at Curated. I help folks find the perfect gear for them, and I am excited to help do the same for you! I’m passionate about helping people find the best products to make the most of their time on the snow. As an avid gear junkie, I have owned and damaged plenty of helmets, and I know a thing or two about head protection and brain health.

I look forward to helping you improve your snow safety and ensuring you can get on the snow for many seasons.

What Are Helmets Used for Anyway?

A good helmet is an essential part of your ski or snowboard kit and is necessary for all ability levels. Helmets can protect your head in many ways, from a small bonk when getting onto the chairlift for the first time to a tumble after dropping your first cliff. No one is immune to head injuries; therefore, head protection is crucial when recreating on the snow.

Do I Need a Helmet Made for Skiing?

Ski helmets are specialized for protection at higher speeds and in snowy environments. A good ski helmet should provide both safety and comfort. Ski helmets have less ventilation than bike helmets, a greater field of view than hockey helmets, less weight than motorcycle helmets, and more protection than water polo helmets—this is why it is best to use a helmet designed for skiing or snowboarding when on the snow!

What to Consider When Buying a Ski Helmet

With so many snow helmet options on the market and a huge range of product prices, choosing the best helmet for you can seem like a difficult and daunting process. But, with some product knowledge, you can easily dispel the myths and read through the marketing jargon to find the best product to fit your needs.

What Features Should My Helmet Have?

At a bare minimum, a ski helmet should have the following:

  • A hard plastic shell, a shock-absorbent foam liner
  • An adjustable chin strap
  • Meet safety standards for recreational snow sports by a governing body such as the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM), European Committee for Standardization (CE EN), or U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Beyond the minimum features listed above, it is also helpful to have warm protective ear pads, a comfortable foam inner, adjustable ventilation, a goggle strap hook, and an adjustable fit. These features improve the helmet's comfort and lead to greater safety on the snow due to increased protection, added warmth, reduced goggle fogging, and a better fit.

How Do I Find My Helmet Size?

The majority of helmets are sized based on the user’s head circumference. To determine your sizing, take a flexible tape measure such as a tailor’s tape and wrap it around your head at the widest point above your ears, along your forehead, and above your eyebrows. Note the measurement of the total distance around your head.

If you do not have a flexible measuring tape, try another flexible item, such as a belt or a tie, mark the points where the item overlaps, and then measure it once it is off your head. If you use a traditional carpenter’s tape measure—with a stiff curved metal blade for a tape—you will need to have the blade curving towards your head with the numbers inward to most easily wrap it around your head and get the most accurate measurement.

How Much Should I Spend on a Ski Helmet?

Typically, ski helmets with the standard features listed above cost a minimum of $50 to $100. Occasionally, it is possible to find helmets with these features even cheaper, but it is always best to prioritize safety over cost. It is possible to spend $300 and up for fully featured helmets. Below, you will learn about the many factors determining helmet sizing and how to choose between them.

Helmet Construction and Different Types of Helmets

Learning about helmet materials is the first step to understanding what differentiates one ski helmet from another. To understand the material differences, you also need a basic understanding of helmet construction and why these materials are used in ski helmet design.

Shell

The helmet's shell is the hard, outermost layer designed to withstand certain abrasions, punctures, and impacts. A harder layer on the helmet's exterior protects your inner foam layer from harder impacts. It reduces the forces needed to be absorbed by the softer materials. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polycarbonate (PC) are the two most common outer shell materials.

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene ABS offers excellent impact resistance, and its durability does not fall off at lower temperatures. It also offers great abrasion resistance and tends to scratch less than other commonly used shell materials. ABS is also cheaper, and those savings are often passed to consumers. However, because ABS is less robust, more material is often used, so the helmets tend to be heavier.

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Abrasion resistant
  • Cheaper

Cons:

  • Heavier
  • Thicker

Polycarbonate PC is lightweight and super high-impact resistant. It is even tougher than ABS at lower temperatures. In addition, it is more flexible, often used as a thinner layer, and can be conformed to more complex shapes, frequently leading to better styling. However, it is more expensive and shows scratches and scuffs more than ABS helmets.

Pros:

  • Lighter
  • Stronger
  • More flexible

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Scuffs

Liner

The helmet's liner is a thick layer of foam underneath the shell. The foam is softer and thicker than the outer shell. The main goal of the foam liner is to absorb shocks during heavy impacts and to disperse that energy throughout the helmet rather than to the skier or rider’s head. This inner layer is often made of various densities of expanded polystyrene (EPS), expanded polypropylene (EPP), or a combination of the two.

Expanded Polystyrene The inner liner of a helmet is made of a hard foam called expanded polystyrene, called EPS. With the right density of foam, EPS liners absorb shock and take most of the force from a crash and distribute it throughout the helmet. EPS is cheaper and lightweight; therefore, it is the liner of choice for most helmet manufacturers. However, EPS foam can dent or crack after a hard enough impact, rendering it useless and unrepairable.

Pros:

  • Lighter
  • Cheaper

Cons:

  • Dents
  • Cracks

Expanded Polypropylene Occasionally, helmet manufacturers use EPP for the liner. This foam is more durable and has the unique ability to reform to its original shape after impact. However, it requires more foam to deliver the same impact resistance and is often an additional layer in helmet construction. Sometimes, it is used for a specific safety feature rather than as a full helmet liner. It is also more expensive and used infrequently. Pros:

  • Elastic
  • Stronger

Cons:

  • Heavier
  • Expensive

Construction

A helmet's construction also affects its quality, durability, impact resistance, and safety. Helmets are either manufactured in-mold, as a two-piece design, or as a hybrid.

In-Mold Helmets made with in-mold construction apply the helmet shell in the mold, and the liner's foam is injected. This type of construction allows for a better bond between the two layers of the helmet and makes for a lighter yet more durable product. This process relies on a thin layer of PC for the shell, which can give the helmet a slim look and a sleek finish. However, this thin PC layer is easily dented, scratched, or punctured, so many manufacturers add a secondary stiffening layer between the liner and the shell for added durability. Doing so reduces the downsides and makes a premium, lightweight helmet. Pros:

  • Low profile
  • Lighter

Cons:

  • Dents
  • Scratches

Two-Piece or Injection Molded The liner and the shell of two-piece helmets are made in two separate processes and are later bonded together as a final product. This version of helmet construction is cheaper and allows for the use of less expensive ABS plastic. However, the separate bonding of shell and liner often requires a thicker shell; therefore, these helmets are often heavier. But they are also less expensive, more durable, and less prone to punctures and dents.

Pros:

  • Cheaper
  • Durable

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Bulky

Hybrid Some manufacturers blend in-mold construction with two-piece construction. Manufacturers can better balance weight savings with durability by utilizing sleek layers of PC from injection molding and adding more robust ABS panels after the initial mold. This process involves more steps, so helmets of this style are often more expensive. However, they also tend to find the ultimate balance of weight savings and durability.

Pros:

  • Expensive
  • Complex

Cons:

  • Light
  • Durable

Features to Choose When Buying a Helmet

Beyond the initial construction of the helmet, there are many other features to consider when purchasing a helmet. Because no two people are alike, no single combination of helmet technology will suit everyone’s needs.

Fit Adjustment Systems

The hard inner foam of a helmet shape is designed to fit most heads comfortably. Helmets often incorporate a fit adjustment system that can conform to someone’s head. These come in various levels of complexity and customization.

Foam Comfort Liner

A foam comfort liner is located between the skier's head and the hard foam inner liner of the helmet. This liner consists of soft foam that can compress to meet the shape of the skier’s head. In basic models, these helmets will sometimes include various thicknesses of foam that can be mixed and matched better to meet the shape of a head. This simple system allows for a customizable fit, but the various pressure points within the helmet can lead to discomfort after long days on the snow.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Customizable

Cons:

  • Uncomfortable
  • Easy to lose pieces

Self Adjustable System

Self-adjustable systems typically feature no further customization for the user beyond the initial fit. These systems often consist of a plastic frame suspended in the rear of the helmet that wraps around the back of the head and is connected by a piece of elastic at the base of the skull. This elastic can expand or contract to meet the shape of one’s head and provides a form fit. These plastic frames are often then wrapped in a liner for added warmth.

Pros:

  • More comfortable
  • Automatic fit

Cons:

  • Lacks customizability
  • Cold without proper liner

Dial Fit System

Many helmet manufacturers have their own in-house adjustment dial system, often found on mid-range helmets. These dial-to-fit systems allow the skier to adjust the tension of the helmet around their skull for a more comfortable and customized fit. Some dials are made to be adjusted with gloves for greater ease of use. Certain dial-fit systems only add tension to the back of the skull, while others encompass the entire head for a greater fit. Other systems even have more fit adjustments, such as vertical tuning, to reduce the dreaded “gaper gap.” Pros:

  • Customizable
  • Comfortable
  • Easy-to-use

Cons:

  • More moving parts
  • Potential to break

A skier with a “gaper gap.” Photo by Alexandra Koch

BOA Fit System

The BOA Fit System is made by an independent company whose only product is their micro-adjustable BOA dial designed to perform in the toughest conditions. Although the addition of the BOA often causes an increase in helmet price, you are buying assurance that your helmet fit system is made of quality parts, is well designed, and is the best product available. BOA now offers the 360° BOA Fit System, which tightens a complete halo around the skier's head for a more customized fit.

Pros:

  • Ease-to-use
  • Quality parts
  • Lifetime guarantee

Cons:

  • Expensive

Comfort Liner

Ski helmets also endure cold conditions more than other categories of helmets, so they also need a comfortable liner for warmth. These liners often extend through the helmet covering the inner comfort foam and incorporating the plastic frame of the fit adjustment system. They aim to maintain warmth, eliminate unwanted breeze, wick moisture, and reduce odors for all-day comfort. Often composed of knit fabric, wool, or fleece, these liners are also sometimes used with an antimicrobial coating for added odor resistance when skiing back-to-back days.

Ear Protection

Almost all ski helmets also include some form of ear protection that also double as ear muffs for added warmth. These pads are sometimes formed into the hard plastic shell and foam liner but are typically a softer foam covered in fabric that attaches to the helmet independent of the liner and shell. Sometimes removable, these pads allow further customization to the helmet. Some even allow integrated audio devices for listening to music or communicating with your riding partners when separated on the mountain.

Ventilation

Ski helmets also require a proper ventilation system to exhaust the skier’s heat and moisture produced when skiing hard. Proper ventilation leads to better heat regulation and moisture management, ultimately allowing longer days on the hill.

Fixed ventilation

Some lower-cost helmets use fixed ventilation to allow airflow from the head out of the helmet. The goal is to allow hot air out of the helmet and keep snow from entering the helmet. Fixed vents are often on the front or rear of the helmet or feature a filter when placed on top to keep snow out while still allowing heat and moisture to exhaust from the helmet.

Pros:

  • Cheaper
  • Hassle-free

Cons:

  • Not adjustable
  • No temperature control

Adjustable Ventilation

More premium helmets often incorporate adjustable ventilation. Adjustable vents are sometimes paired with fixed vents and other times featured as multiple zones of adjustment. The opening or closing of the vents allows the skier or rider to have better control over their temperature and moisture management. Vents can be opened on sunny days when the weather is hot for the best heat release. Vents can be closed on cold, snowy days for better heat retention when exposed skin is cold and uncomfortable.

Pros:

  • Adjustable
  • Temperature control

Cons:

  • Expensive

Goggle Ventilation

Unvented heat and moisture often lead to fogging goggles, which can ruin a perfect day on the mountain. Many helmets have specialty-designed ventilation that allows steam to rise through ski goggles and up and out of the helmet like a chimney. This is even more common in helmet manufacturers who also produce goggles, as they use specialty designs that most efficiently exhaust hot and moist air from the goggles out of the helmet.

Additional Safety Technology

Although helmets with a hard plastic shell and a hard foam liner are great at protecting against head injuries from direct impact, this simplified helmet design tends not to absorb angled or oblique impacts as well. In these instances, the rotational forces of the impact are often transferred to the brain and result in head trauma. To account for these forces—and to combat them—many manufacturers have implemented safety systems that cause rotational forces to dissipate into the helmet. Below are some of the most common safety systems found in helmets.

MIPS Safety System

The MIPS Safety System is a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) that enhances the safety of helmets by reducing the rotational forces applied to the brain that cause shearing or stretching of the tissue. MIPS technology integrates a low friction layer into the ski helmet to allow relative motion between the helmet and the head and is designed to work at any angle. Only adding 20-40 grams to the helmet, and without reducing ventilation, MIPS can mitigate the risks of oblique impacts.

Pros:

  • Integrated into existing helmet models
  • Lightweight
  • Low cost

Cons:

  • Does not absorb impact energy

MIPS Spherical Technology

MIPS Spherical Technology was developed in conjunction with Giro Sport Design to provide comprehensive performance and protection through a ball-and-socket design. By utilizing two different inner liners with a low friction MIPS liner between them, MIPS Spherical Technology can redirect rotational motion away from the brain. The two inner liners are also optimized by material and density to manage a broad range of impacts.

Pros:

  • Advanced protection

Cons:

Koroyd

Often considered an alternative to the hard foam found in helmet liners—but used in conjunction with it—Koroyd is a breathable and lightweight material that resembles a tubular honeycomb structure. Koroyd’s corrugated-like shape crumples on impact through sacrificial plastic deformation.

When impacted, Koroyd acts as a true energy absorber instead of foam's spring-like properties. Koroyd can absorb direct and angled impacts and reduces rotational motion. The open cell shape also allows for unparalleled breathability, so Koroyd is typically featured in vented areas of the helmet. Currently, Koroyd is only used in Smith helmets but is also found within other products like snowboards.

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Breathable

Cons:

Wavecel

Wavecel is a competitive technology that reduces rotational forces to the brain and prevents concussions. Partially funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), this novel helmet technology can provide 73% more rotational force absorption and a 98% reduction in concussion risk than a standard helmet by their claims.

Wavecel has proven its worth in many independent lab tests and acts like an interconnected network of shock absorbers that distributes the impact energy and absorbs impact forces. Additionally, it can divert rotational forces by flexing and gliding. It is also porous, meaning air can freely flow through the Wavecel surface, making it a great option for ventilation.

Pros:

  • Flex, crumple, or glide to reduce injury
  • Better performance than slip liners

Cons:

Proprietary Safety Systems

With so much innovation in helmet technology in recent years, helmet manufacturers often create proprietary rotational impact safety systems with various makers that become mainstays in their helmet lineup.

For example, Salomon created EPS4D, which shapes the foam liner by dispersing impact rotations during a harder impact, and POC used a technology called SPIN in their snow helmets that has since been replaced with MIPS. Proprietary safety tech is almost always more advantageous than no additional tech and should be considered when making a helmet purchase.

Photo by Go Montgenevre

Other Features to Consider

These features are not necessary for function or safety but create a more comfortable and seamless ski helmet experience.

Goggle Retention

Most helmets feature a goggle retention system to keep goggles in a fixed position when riding or in the event of a crash. There are two main types of goggle retention systems, goggle clips and integrated goggles.

  • Goggle Clips: The tried and true goggle retention system featured on most helmets is a clip on the back that keeps the goggle strap from sliding on the surface of the helmet. Some of these goggle clips can be removed for a more sleek look. Some are plastic, while others are rubber. Most function the same.
  • Integrated Goggles: Integrated goggles or visors allow skiers to reduce the gear needed when packing for a ski trip. By integrating goggles into the helmet, the gaper gap is also eliminated. These are especially helpful for kids, who often leave goggles dangling off their goggle clip.

Chin Strap

The chin strap can change the comfort and performance of a helmet. Typically, they are made of two pieces of flat nylon that extend from either side of the skier's ear and connect just underneath it. In helmets with padded ear covers, these straps are often attached yet can be disconnected.

  • Ear Position Adjustment: Some chin straps allow skiers to adjust the position where the two pieces of nylon connect. Although this feature doesn’t add much in terms of comfort when using the ear pads, people who prefer not to use the ear pads may find the adjustable position of this connection as a way to customize their helmet further and increase comfort.
  • Padding: Some chin straps also have comfort padding with warm, moisture-resistant fabric that reduces irritation from a tight chin strap. This simple feature greatly improves helmet comfort.
  • Fidlock: Lastly, some helmets forgo the typical plastic side release buckle for a more glove-friendly design. Fidlock buckles use magnets and an innovative design to allow users to snap their chin strap closed with one hand or with gloves.

Integrated Camera Mount

Traditional camera mounts required a permanent adhesive mount or a finicky temporary strap. Many helmet manufacturers have recognized the need for camera mounts for action cameras or other accessories and have included integrated camera mounts as part of their helmet design. An integrated mount provides a more sleek look for the helmet and is often made with a breakaway safety feature that prevents the camera from snagging and leading to greater injury.

A ski helmet with a non-integrated camera mount. Photo by Steve Johnston

Multi-Category Certification

Some ski helmets also achieve multi-category certification from ATSM or CE EN for mixed-use. These helmets offer a dual-season certification for biking after removing the winter liner. Some ski helmets also have mountaineering certification to better protect from falling objects in high alpine environments when skiing mixed routes.

Fit Considerations

Some brands make adjustments to helmets based on fit or other personal characteristics. Depending on the manufacturer, you can find round-fitting helmets which are often called “Rounded” or “Asian Fit”. Also, many brands offer helmets made specifically for women. Typically, these are sized and fit the same but are more readily available in smaller sizes and less available or not produced in the largest sizes.

Conclusion

The right helmet for you should be a safe, approved snow helmet that fits. Start by measuring your head, and only consider helmets available in your size. Next, list the features that are most important to you. Finally, you should hone in on a budget that works for your wallet and choose your helmet accordingly. If you have any questions about fit, features, styles, or sizing, don’t hesitate to contact a Curated Expert to get the best gear advice tailored just for you. Check out this list of Experts' top-rated helmets.

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