The first time I tried on a winter-sports helmet for skiing, I felt like a billiard ball with legs. It was heavy, didn’t fit all that well, and didn’t look exactly stylish. Happily, though, things have changed. Helmets are becoming a staple in our ski gear—and with good reason.
There are several basic features to look for in helmets, says Olin Glenne, hard-goods buyer for Sturtevants, ski racer, instructor, and overall ski-gear expert. Fit is most important, followed by the choice of single- or multi-impact engineering. Aerodynamics and color are also considerations.
Multiple-impact helmets are standard for racing, since a bad fall can result in more than one impact to the head. These helmets are made with a different process, and have a shell that should hold up for several blows. For the recreational skier, single-impact helmets seem to be the norm. Both types are available in motocross-style models, with mouthguards and sun visors for the super-aggro look. Still, as Olin emphasizes, fit is the top priority.
Different age groups have different priorities when choosing helmets. Kids are drawn to color and metallic finishes. Teens seem to favor style and aerodynamics. And for the big kids, helmet companies have gotten very creative.
The Giro Fuse, for example, has soft earflaps that can be removed for spring skiing or ventilation. As light as a mountain bike helmet, it is extremely well formed and comfortable. In 2004, Giro came out with “Tune-Ups,” earflaps that have built-in speakers and a cord that can be plugged into an iPod or other mp3 player carried in the jacket pocket. For 2005, they’ve taken it one step farther, with a system that can be plugged into a cell phone that beeps through the music when a call comes in. (Generally, these calls should be taken in emergency situations only, as cell phone conversations are incredibly annoying to those around you … but, here in Sun Valley, where many of us take the occasional business call in our slope-side office, certain considerate exceptions are allowed.)
Almost all local ski shops offer a lease program for the season, as well as helmet rentals by the day or week. More than half of adult ski rentals, and almost all kids’ rental packages go out with helmets. “The kids wear a helmet as part of their gear,” says Sturtevants staffer Lilly Davies. “Along with the skis, poles and boots, the helmet is just an essential of skiing.”
These days it seems that there is no good reason not to wear a helmet. Who can’t use some warmth and extra protection? Especially when skiing in the trees, where the potential for impact with hard snow, cliffs, trees, and other skiers is higher, helmets offer a sense of security.
Ski helmets have come a long way. Not only is it easy to identify friends from the lifts by their colorful and personalized helmets, but the added measure of security and protection is essential for us to ski our best.