Nowadays more and more skiers wear a helmet and in some countries and in many ski schools helmets are mandatory for children aged 13 or under, and while we don’t believe helmets should be made compulsory for adults as a matter of law, we recommend that you buy one and wear one.
The issue of whether we should be wearing ski helmets is a
perennial one, but was thrown into the limelight twice in 2009 by
high-profile ski accidents such as the German politician Dieter
Althaus who crashed into a Slovakian women on a mountain in Austria
on New Year's day - he was wearing a helmet, and survived; she was
not, and did not - and by the death of actress Natasha Richardson
who fell on a beginners slope in Mont Tremblant, Canada in March
Incidents like these, just two among many, put forward a pretty
convincing argument for wearing a ski helmet all the time - not
just occasionally when you will be doing rails and kickers in the
park or at risk from rocks and ice in the backcountry. No matter
how good a skier you are, there's always the risk that you could be
head-butted by someone who is perhaps less in control or going
'There's a theory that people ski like they're invincible with a
helmet on,' says Steve Watts, ski hardware buyer for Ellis Brigham,
'but I think that's down to your personality. Personally, I don't
feel less scared when I ski with a helmet on.' If you feel
invincible to start with, wearing a helmet might amplify this, but
it is down to everyone to assess their level of ability and be
Whether you are concerned about collisions caused by you or
others, falling on a rail, or tumbling on rocks you can protect
your precious grey matter with a helmet. There's a 60 per cent less
chance of sustaining a head injury if you are wear one, according
to a survey by Norwegian scientists last year.
If you added your own lid to your ski gear this season, you'd be
moving with the times. 'We have seen an increase in people buying
helmets of 20 per cent on last year,' says Steve. Helmets are the
fastest-growing product in the ski hardware sector, but about ten
years ago, it would be unusual to be seen wearing a ski helmet on
the slopes. Now wearing a helmet has shaken of its geeky image and
is even seen as aspirational - hardcore skiers spotted in lift
queues all tend to wear them.
No matter how cool you want to look, if your helmet doesn't feel
comfortable you're less likely to put it on every day of your
holiday. Luckily, helmets are getting lighter and more comfy. At
the top end, helmets using mould-construction techniques are
'bomb-proof' and 'flyweight', according to Neil Dawes from iLevel
Sports, who distribute Smith helmets. Even cap-construction
helmets, such as the knockout best seller for Ellis Brigham the Pro
Tec Red Trace, are light and comfortable.
Something that will put a dampener on even the best of
intentions is an overheated head - we've all seen those guys with a
sweaty scalp when they take their lid off. Not attractive and above
all not comfortable. But now there are helmets with adjustable
ventilation to allow you to control the amount of cool air you get
flowing over your head. 'Men in general perspire more than women,'
says Neil, 'so they pick our helmets with 'pro ducts' ventilation
system such as the Hustle or the Varient.'
Another factor is the fit of the helmet. Be prepared to try
different ski helmets until you find the best snug, but not too
tight fit. If your head rattles around in your helmet, or it gives
you headaches from pressure points, you won't be happy to wear it
every day. More expensive models have adjustable bands inside you
can crank on or loosen off, which is great to make sure you have
the perfect fit.
Naysayers also complain about muffled hearing. 'There's a theory
that you don't hear as well with a helmet on - but I don't agree'
says Steve. However, there is a backlash against audio helmets,
which have speakers in the earflaps. 'I like to hear the snow and
people around me,' says Neil. Having awareness through hearing what
is going on around you can prevent an accident through crashing or
even in an avalanche.
Helmets are affordable with the bestselling helmets costing
around £50 and top-end ones going up to around £100 a pop. If you
intend to wear your ski helmet often, opt for the most comfortable
one you can afford. As Steve points out, having your own helmet
will always be more comfortable than a rented helmet.
If you have children, it is compulsory for them to wear a helmet
in parts of Italy, and elsewhere ski schools won't take children up
the hill without them. The Ski Club of Great Britain's line on
helmets is that: 'We recommend children aged 13 and under wear them
and for adults it is up to their discretion.'
But the recent fatal accidents involving Dieter Althaus and
Natasha Richardson have sparked debate over whether helmets should
be made compulsory for all ages in both Austria and in Germany.
Neil reckons: 'There will be a sea-change next year: I think
insurance companies will start to make it compulsory to wear one,
probably starting in the States.'
In the meantime, it is up to our own personal choice whether we
wear a helmet or not. There are those that believe skiing is about
feeling free, having the wind rushing through your hair, but for
safety sake we recommend that you buy a helmet and wear it.
Ski helmet tips
Will you be wearing a hat or balaclava
If so make sure you have enough space for it - take it with you
when you try helmets on if possible.
Also try and take your goggles you will be wearing with your
helmet to see if the two slot together well - you don't want a big
gap at your forehead, that's a surefire way to get brainfreeze.
What are your head measurements?
Measure the circumference of your head just above the brow line
in centimetres to know what sizes to try on - although this can
vary from make to make.
Does your ski helmet fit?
Your helmet should fit snugly and not move around on your head,
but you don't want it too tight either.
When to replace your ski helmet?
If you get any big dents or, worse, cracks it is time to replace
it. With a big dent the foam is compressed so it won't protect you
very well from impact or if you have lots of little dents it may
also be time to chuck it and get a new one.
Some manufacturers also say you should replace helmets between
every two and five years as the components such as the foam will
degrade with oily suncreams and salts in sweat. Really? if your
helmet manufacturer says this then it's time to switch brands and
buy a better one.