How to Choose a Ski Helmet
Like all ski equipment, there's a lot to know about helmets, and brain buckets are not a place where you want to be uninformed. Deep dive into what to look for.
If you're looking to learn more about helmets, by now, you probably know that most things in the ski industry are better off with a little bit of research. And that's what we at Curated are here for—we have the on-mountain experience and knowledge to make sure you buy the best gear every time, with no hassle. Now before we get into what makes a ski helmet (which can also be used snowboarding by the way – they're the same thing), let's get one thing straight: Helmets are not "uncool," and folks on the mountain are not going to look at you funny for wearing one.
These days, nearly everyone sports a brain bucket, and for good reason – we all want to protect what's up top. Wearing a helmet is a no-brainer, especially as you get started skiing. Some of my worst impacts have actually come at very low speeds on very flat parts of the hill.
Disclaimer: This is not a scientific article, and I do not claim to know anything about the world of helmet or impact science, and related fields. I am not giving medical/scientific advice on any of these subjects. Skiing and snowboarding are inherently dangerous activities. There are many resources publicly available to learn more about helmet safety and construction, how a helmet should fit to protect your head and brain, head injury science, and more. CDC.gov has a great two-pager on what to look for in a helmet – check it out here.
Size & Fit
Sizing your helmet is the most important thing you can do when buying – if the size is off, the helmet won't protect you as much. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), which tests the safety of many of the ski and snowboard helmets on the market today, does so assuming a proper "snug fit." Practically, this means that the helmet does not "wiggle" too much if you put it on and shake your head, but it also shouldn't be so tight that it gives you a headache. You're looking for a happy medium – snug – when it comes to helmet fit.
Fortunately, brands today are churning out helmets with some pretty cool technology to really dial in the fit with micro-adjustments (more on that later). For now, do yourself a favor, and take a soft tape measure, wrap it around your forehead about two centimeters above your eyebrows, and measure the circumference of your head. Record this in centimeters.
Manufacturers each have their own size chart, so it's very important to reference their specific sizing before purchasing – your Curated Ski Expert can help do this for you. With your head circumference in hand, you'll be able to easily and accurately pick your buying size. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that just as size charts vary by brand, so too does overall fit. Some manufacturers, like Giro, are known for a bigger-fitting helmet that is good for generally larger noggins. Smith, on the other hand, is often a good choice for a more average-sized head.
Fortunately, even if you fall in the middle of a manufacturer's size chart, you can help dial the fit in for your head. Nowadays, each brand has their own fit system allowing you to make micro adjustments – similar to the latches on your ski boots – whether with a dial system, slider, or by simply adding thicker liner foam to the inside. There's no excuse for skiers to have a poorly fitting helmet any more!
The chin strap
Choosing the right size helmet is most of the battle, but not all of it. To make sure your helmet fits snugly while retaining comfort, you need to do two more things: 1) tighten your chin strap (a rule of thumb is to pretend you're eating a sandwich and make sure the strap is snug in this position), and 2) actually fasten the chin strap when skiing!
I can't tell you how many falls I have seen that end with a helmet rolling down the mountain because a chin strap wasn't fastened – it's easy to forget, so check often.
A note on goggle gap
Have you ever heard the term "gaper gap" and wondered what that meant? Well, it means, "guaranteed accident prone on every run," and in skiing, a colloquial sign is a large gap along your forehead between the helmet and your goggles.
Fortunately, this is fairly easy to avoid by simply purchasing a helmet and goggles from the same brand. These are typically developed together and fit seamlessly alongside each other to prevent goggle gap. Other benefits include venting hot air that might fog your goggles, large goggles arms (known as outriggers) to easily fit around larger helmets, and more.
If you don't buy a helmet and goggles from the same brand, do your best to make sure they work together before buying – your Curated Ski Expert can help you here, too!
It's easy to go down a rabbit hole when it comes to helmet construction, but to keep things simple, you can generally think of helmets in two categories: single- and multiple-impact helmets.
Often, single-impact models (sometimes referred to as in-mold and injection-mold helmets) are made by pairing a foam layer – such as an EPS foam liner – with a harder plastic shell (i.e. an ABS plastic that is fairly durable).
Newer hybrid shells – multiple impact helmets – come to the market claiming to withstand multiple impacts. The CDC recommends replacing your helmet after every significant impact, and while multiple-impact models claim to be more durable than single-use models, it's important to regularly check for damage regardless of the type you buy.
While it can get expensive to replace your helmet, think of the alternative! If you have questions about helmets, ask your Curated Ski Expert for more information.
Alright, let's talk features. Like skis, boots, jackets, etc., we could talk about features until the cows come home. There are a number of prominent features you may want to consider, which I will outline below. As always, talk to your Curated Ski Expert to learn more about the great helmet tech on the market today to help make your days on the slopes the best they can be.
Does your head get hot? Mine sure does – doesn't matter if it's -10F or 30F outside, my head is sweating. Many helmets today – particularly higher-end models – now include adjustable vents, which allow you to decide how much air gets in and out of the helmet. Some manufacturers use plugs, while others use sliders to open up their helmets, but the end result is the same: fresh air.
Bonus tip: Promoting airflow from the helmet actually helps prevent your goggles from fogging over! If you've ever noticed, your goggles have vents on the bottom and top of the frames, and when the air exits the top of the goggles, it can either go up and out of the helmet or back down into the goggle.
We touched on this already so I won't go too deep, but I have to say that I am very partial to helmets with a BOA system. Essentially, this is a little click wheel attached to a wire that goes throughout the liner and allows you to really dial in the fit – literally. You've probably seen them before – they're easy to spot on the back of helmets!
Many brands have similar ways of adjusting the fit, even if it's not an outright BOA system. Heck, Giro has a system that’s not technically BOA but looks darn close. Regardless, take advantage and make sure your helmet fits well!
Are you looking for a plush fit or something that’s a little warmer for those cold days on the mountain? Liners have come a long way from what they used to be – some now feature soft-to-the-touch microfiber, lightweight materials for hot days, and more. There are even some helmets that include antibacterial liners to help keep smells at bay.
Another liner feature is MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system). In MIPS helmets, the liner moves somewhat independently of the helmet shell, which in theory, may help make impacts safer. Usually, a yellow MIPS sticker will help denote whether a helmet has this feature.
Are you someone who loves listening to music while you ski? Tired of your earbuds falling out? Fortunately, many helmets today support various audio systems – usually speakers that fit into the ear pads – and allow you to pair with your phone. As a bonus, most of these systems have large buttons that allow you to play, pause, forward, etc., all while keeping your gloves on.
Ready to buy a helmet? Contact a Curated Expert for personalized recommendations and check out our article on the 6 best ski and snowboard helmets.