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 2009.
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 recklessly fast.
‘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 realistically confident.
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.