Snowsport Ski Touring Helmet Issues and Testing


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | July 5, 2018      

(Please use our site search for quite a few more helmet posts. We have a “Ski Helmets” subject category as well.)

Casque, sturzhelm, whatever you call it, whether or not to use a backcountry skiing helmet is an open question. Vociferous helmet advocates remind one of evangelicals when they push for helmet use, while less fanatical individuals look at the numbers and question the efficacy of hard hats. What to do?

One of my favorite observations about helmets is somewhat philosophical. The fact is that most ski injuries are not head whacks, but rather torn up knees, broken bones and other unpleasantness such as twisted backs (*see note at end of this post). Preventing many of those injuries is tough, if not impossible. Along comes a helmet. “Aha,” we think, “I might spend a year rehabbing a knee, but at least I won’t get a head injury.” In an unpredictable world, a helmet offers a bit of certainty about not getting at least one type of crippling damage (known as traumatic brain injury, TBI). Or does it?

My favorite article about helmets was written some time ago (2005) by gear expert Clyde Soles (defunct link removed). Clyde made the still valid in 2018 point that “…embracing the fickle nuances of fashion as much as the logical needs of safety…wearing a helmet of any kind seems to make intuitive sense when flying down a snow slope at 25 miles per hour… [but a] helmet that does not meet stringent, though voluntary, testing standards offers little more protection than a cardboard box.”

So the first step with picking a helmet is know what testing standard it goes with. Next, it’s necessary to know what that standard actually offers in protection — usually very little though they do have a protective effect in a head impact (as many empirical tales can relate). Beyond that, as Clyde suggests, you need a helmet that voluntarily exceeds the industry standards and goes to a more “stringent” level of protection (the MIPS feature being a good example).

Consider the latest helmets certified to the EN-1077/ASTM-F2040-11 standard for snowsports. While such performance will no doubt reduce the severity of injury at higher speed, in my opinion it’s a rather minimalist standard (created in 1996!) and cause for concern. Put bluntly: Even under current standards, is it really a “helmet” or just a plastic covered hat?

Expert skiers routinely ski faster than ever, and dropping cliffs (even small ones) involves significant speed. Moreover, in the backcountry you might want protection from trauma during an avalanche. How fast? Try 60 to 90 mph for a soft slab — with rocks and trees at the ready for concentrated impacts. No consumer grade snowsports helmet in existence offers even close to that sort of protection, and as Lindsey Vonn can testify (concussion clearly contributed to the decline of her storied career), even the race helmets could be better.

My take: Our family uses helmets, but we don’t make a god out of them. From research I’ve come to know they’re important for bicycle safety, but appear to be less important for skiing. Conversely, I’m fully aware that a knee injury might threaten your athletic career but doesn’t involve being fed by a tube for the rest of your life. Again begging the question, is the helmet good enough to prevent the latter occurrence?

It is disappointing that ski helmets offer so little protection. Why no outcry? Answer: Serious head injuries comprise only a small percentage of ski hurts, and skiing is a fairly safe sport in terms of life altering or fatal injuries (more people are killed by lightning than by ski accident.) More, helmets have indeed (and logically) been shown to reduce head injuries of initially lesser severity, so they do have their use. Helmet advocates thus get an easy pass, but current studies are showing that the rate of severe (traumatic brain injury “TBI”) head injuries in skiing has not shrunk in any statistically meaningful way — despite now extensive helmet use. Reality, for years now it’s seemed that so long as it’s called and sold as a “helmet,” “casque,” or “sturzhelm,” shoppers are happy. Even if it’s little better than wearing a thick cardboard box. But that may be changing.

While archaic industry helmet standards appear to be going nowhere in terms of becoming more stringent. The NFL’s problem with concussions has increased interest in helmets that do more. For example, Virginia Tech has developed their own testing and rating system, and of course Consumer Reports is always involved.

At this time Virginia Tech has only tested one snowsports rated helmet — it did not do well. In the case of bicycle helmets, Virginia suggests combining their rating with that of Consumer Reports (and of course limiting your choices to options that conform to industry standards). Sadly, there is a dearth of such information about snowsports helmets, but efforts are made such as this testing by Transworld. I expect to see more of that, and wouldn’t be surprised if Virginia Tech goes after it.

(For more WildSnow blogging about helmets, enter the word “helmets” in our search box. Backcountry.com is a good place for helmet shopping. Unless you need something exceptionally light and trim, perhaps for skimo racing, look for something with MIPS enhanced protection and good coverage at the back of your head.)

*(Oddly enough, some snowsports helmet studies coming out these days show that helmet users actually do incur fewer injuries to parts of their bodies other than their head, than non-helmet skiers! We theorize that’s because helmet users are self selecting as a user group more concerned about personal safety. At the least, it perhaps proves that helmet use doesn’t encourage more risk taking, one of the arguments against helmet use. Anecdotally, I can say that whenever I use a helmet it is definitly out of an increased overall sense of caution, though doing so might indeed be because I’m in a more risky situation, such as steep terrain.)



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Comments

72 Responses to “Snowsport Ski Touring Helmet Issues and Testing”

  1. Lou September 13th, 2006 11:30 am

    Chet, do they appear to have any concern about what brand/standard the helmet is? Or will they just wear anything if it looks like a helmet? Also, one wonders if they wear a helmet for driving, as that’s probably the most dangerous and head injury prone activity most people do.

    Chet, I take it you’re a helmet advocate. Do you wear one while driving? If it’s logical to wear one while skiing, would it be logical to wear one while in automobile, based on statistics?

  2. Chet Roe September 13th, 2006 11:03 am

    EVERY neurologist that I know (in Denver) wears a helmet while skiing…..what does that mean? just an observation….Chet Roe

  3. Pierce September 13th, 2006 12:26 pm

    I am more than a little dismayed to see the Snell rating dropped by all helmet manufacturers and to hear about the pathetic standards ski helmets are made to these days. Sometimes I think about wearing my autocross helmet out skiing, since it is built to withstand some real trauma. I’ve noticed people like Seth Morrison wearing what appears to be a motorcycle helmet in some of his older videos. I bought full-face Pro-Tec last season and would agree that it’s not good for much more than keeping branches and knees out of your face, not getting snagged on trees, and keeping the powder out of your mouth. Hopefully we’ll see this trend reverse.

  4. Ricky September 13th, 2006 1:51 pm

    I considered wearing my dirt-bike (full face) helmet skiing, knowing that it has probably surpassed most of the ski helmet standards. While it probably would have helped if I fell off a cliff the added weight (3-4 lbs. at least) on my head probably would have had negative outcome on my neck in an avalanche situation. It’s really a give in take situation with helmets. Are you going to ski more reckless with a helmet than you normally would, if so that make the helmet more dangerous. I think a better answer is to just keep your head away from rocks.

  5. Damian September 13th, 2006 1:02 pm

    I don’t expect a helmet to save me from a nasty head injury. I simply want it to protect my fragile scalp from all the knocks, nicks and thumps that it gets when I am being aggressive in and around ice, rocks, trees and branches whilst wearing a full backpack with an ice axe, poles and snowshoes attached to the back. I don’t like having a bleeding scalp in the back country, simple as that. The helmet has stopped more than a few bleeding wounds that would have ruined my day touring. If I could find a more streamlined helmet offering minimal protection then I would just wear that. Just enough to keep tufts of hair on my head.

  6. Derek September 13th, 2006 5:55 pm

    A friend of mine fell while ski touring. He hit his helmeted head on a stump and cracked the helmet but did not lose consciousness. A month later, at the OR show, he still had headaches, dizziness, and nausea. I work in an ER, and suggested this was abnormal and that he should get a CT scan. He had an MRI, and the next day was in neurosurgery getting a huge subdural hematoma evacuated. The neuro doc was suprised he was alive, or had not had a seizure.

    Whatever your stance on helmets is, his story was amazing. He’s doing great now.

  7. Cody September 13th, 2006 7:41 pm

    Thanks Lou

  8. Piotr September 14th, 2006 1:52 am

    I think it all depends on what kind of skiing one does. Where I live extreme guys often wear climbing helmets, but they do skiing which involves using crampons, ice axes and belaying devices every now and then, so I guess they’re more concerned about falling rocks etc, than typical ski falls.

    I think Ricky has a valid point with the helmet being an additional swing weight which can be dangerous for your neck – not only in an avalanche situation.

    I personally chose a light ‘snowboard’ helmet much like bike ones – no thick plastic, mostly styrofoam, so it is supposed to withstand just one major blow and fall to pieces afterwards. Real light (350g? I can’t recall), so the swing problem is greatly reduced. It also has soft detachable earflaps and ventilation good enough to wear it all the time. Got it real cheap, which was nice. 😉
    Just my 2 (euro)cents.

  9. Cory September 14th, 2006 8:10 am

    Being against helmets is like being against vegetables. Sure, I like my steak, but some leafy greens keep the colon clean. Be smart, research your helmet. Look for ANSI and Snell ratings. Know what those ratings mean. I wonder why the round anvil and pointed anvil tests were avoided in this article? It’s just like politics today. Step 1) Take a position. Step 2) Find research and articles that support your position. Step 3) Ignore or dismiss info that could weaken your position.

  10. Scott September 14th, 2006 3:30 pm

    No doubt helmets could be better. I don’t think a good argument can be made that they have a negative safety impact, as Clyde seems to be making. I read his article and thought that some of his conclusions were dubious at best. It didn’t seem to me that he had a solid grasp of statistics or physics. Mitches article seemed more thoughtful. Neither makes concrete, provable conclusions.

    Regardless of whether they really protect you in major collisions, they are very useful for eliminating small bumps, scrapes, and lacerations. Major collisions are rare, small bumps are very common.

    I don’t tend to wear one in the backcountry, though. Instead I prefer to use my climbing helmet since I believe it is better at protecting my head from rockfall. If there are no trees or couloirs (to funnel rocks) on my route, I usually forgoe the weight altogether.

  11. Mountain_Monkey September 14th, 2006 8:17 pm

    As a freeheeler, the most important protection a helmet can provide is from your own skis. Even Rando/Alpine people don’t know where there ski edges will end up when they fall and boards release… I have had my boards snap back at my head hard more than once..

  12. Matt Kinney September 15th, 2006 8:32 am

    I wear a helmet religiously. I can help someone with a broken bone, but a broken skull is a tough one. Wear a helmet cause we all like to ski hard and fast, no matter your ski skill level.

    Though not mentioned since Coomb’s accident, I did note in the last descent pic of Coombs in the Powder Mag, that he did not have a helmet on while decending an extremely dangerous line. Coombs never wore a helmet as far as I can tell. I have seen hundreds of pics of him in steep terrain with no helmet. This is not to harm Coombs reputation in anyway, just a “safety” observation.

  13. Geoff September 15th, 2006 8:15 pm

    I started wearing a helmet coz I expect my young kids to wear one. Then as I was dropping a narrow steep tree line one day, it occured to me that I would never mountain bike without a helmet. I’ve split a bike helmet crashing in the woods and seen several friends do so. And I thought to myself: same trees, same speed, same head. How can I not wear a ski helmet if I insist on wearing a MTB helmet? Think about it that way.

    Plus, when the trees get really tight, a helmeted head makes a good battering ram to clear a path through the low branches. Oh, did I say that out loud 😉

  14. TreeHead September 16th, 2006 8:06 am

    I agree with Geoff – in the Right Coast at least, backcountry skiing frequently involves tree skiing. A helmet is almost a must to keep the shwack from digging little gouges into one’s head.

  15. Lou September 16th, 2006 9:07 am

    I agree with you guys that a “helmet” can be useful for more than accidents. I like mine for that reason as well. But how do you define “helmet?” Are you defining it as something that can keep twigs out of your hair, or something that can do effective head injury prevention in major impacts? My main point is that we seem to go on faith that if something is called “helmet” and you can rap it with your knuckles and hear a nice sound, it qualifies for effective protection. I’m wondering if we’re being sold a bill of goods.

    Also, if you’re asking a helmet to bash through brush and tree branches, that would disqualify helmets with ventilation holes that could allow the entry of a punji. Otherwise if you’re butting heads with branches it’s only a matter of time before one goes through a vent hole and causes major damage to your scalp!

    Indeed, I’m wondering how many of the styrofoam hats now sold could stand up to multiple bashes from tree branches before they disombobulated?

  16. Damian September 16th, 2006 2:30 pm

    Lou, Giro makes a helmet called the Fuse. It has heaps of vents and also a very effective sliding vent closure system which is activated with the flick of a switch on your head. A great feature, but, it is a painfully expensive helmet.

  17. Derek September 16th, 2006 10:50 pm

    In reply to Matt Kinney on Coombs:

    I have a bunch of footage of him while guiding the first guided descent of the Grand. He always had a helmet on there.

    Just an observation.

    -Derek

  18. Lou September 17th, 2006 5:14 am

    Come to think of it, the photo of Coombs in my Wild Snow history book shows him wearing a helmet, and a beefy looking one at that. Ski helmets are stylish now, but when Coombs was doing his media skiing they weren’t as common. He was smart and media savvy and along with doing what he was comfortable with, I don’t doubt he was doing what was best for his career and “look” when in front of a camera and not wearing a helmet. Now days it would look funny to see one of the hard core skiers skiing without a helmet in a movie or display ad, though I’m sure it’s done.

  19. snowdrifter November 11th, 2006 7:28 am

    wanted to bring the idea of a climbing helmet for skiing back out. I ve used mine in the spring time on steeper terrain with rocks above etc, but i wonder if they are effective enough for impact with ground etc. I really liked skiing with the climbing helmet on, super light and very good air flow , especially with no toque on . I guess my point here is that if they are somewhat effective for impact then i would consider this a good option, although the more fashionable types might not like it, in the backcountry utility rules over style.
    cheers

  20. Frank moory April 12th, 2012 5:19 am

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  21. alpin February 15th, 2013 5:28 pm

    Hi guys,

    What would you say about Mammut El Cap as a backcountry skiing helmet?
    http://www.mammut.ch/productDetail/222000090_v_0259_5257cm/El+Cap.html
    I couldn’t find one in stores in Vancouver…

    Cheers –
    A

  22. VTPyzon October 24th, 2013 11:57 am

    I’ve noticed that many sponsored riders seem to be taking *off* their helmets.

    Coming from a motorcycling background I find the arguments about peripheral vision and “swing weight” amusing, as these ridiculous arguments are also used in motorcycling as a reason to not to wear a helmet. They’ve been proven wrong there already, so why would they be true with the lighter weight, less confining ski helmet? They aren’t.

    I think the focus is on the wrong issue: it’s not just death we’re trying to avoid. Concussions and other “less serious” injuries head injuries are good things to avoid.

    While a helmet won’t guarantee safety (nothing will), it doesn’t hurt to wear one — unless you’re just super fashion conscious, which is the only reason *not* to wear one.

  23. TallHall November 1st, 2016 6:58 pm

    1/Googles fog less on a helmet than sitting on a toque.
    2/Not every impact is with a tree while skiing fast. Catching an edge and simply smacking your head on hard snow can be pretty damaging. Most helmets should absorb enough of this impact to warrant wearing one.

  24. Konrad Bartelski July 5th, 2018 9:33 am

    So long as there is still a freedom of choice, then every one can choose what they prefer.
    Personally I do not wear a helmet skiing , I do when cycling, not because it is a “fashion” statement, but because if there are dangers around, either above the ground or below the snow, I prefer to ski well within my ability. I choose to reduce the risk myself.
    Which is why I also prefer to ski backcountry, as it removes the biggest risk there is when skiing on piste these days: that of the skiers speeding way beyond their abilities and without due consideration.

  25. XXX_er July 5th, 2018 11:07 am

    Last season I was skiing with a friend who smacked her head on the snow in the back country during a slow speed nothing fall on an easy soft beginner run, suddenly she couldn’t figure out how or where to make a turn so it was a long cold time getting out, I figured she was just having a bad day but a couple days later she was diagnosed with a concussion. The fall may have been a nothing fall but there was a history of concussions from riding horses 20-30 yrs ago and this made her susceptible to more concussions. 30 yrs ago nobody thot twice about concussions in sports like hockey/football/boxing but now we know better

    I normaly always use a helmet at the hill but not in the BC cuz I don’t want to carry it on the way up. This experiance of how little it takes to get a concussion has made me rethink helmets in the BC cuz I am regularly skiing way faster than thru the trees then that day and so I plan to wear a lid at all times from now on

  26. Lou Dawson 2 July 5th, 2018 11:32 am

    One thing I’d suggest with helmets is they simply be worn all the time, uphill or down. Lou

  27. XXX_er July 5th, 2018 1:12 pm

    I run too hot to wear a helmet on the up but I will figure out how to carry a helmet in
    my 40L pack and be wearing it for the down

  28. wtofd July 5th, 2018 1:35 pm

    alpin,
    I’ve used the El Cap as my only backcountry helmet.
    Pros: it packs well for a helmet of that size. The headband expands out to the limit of the shell and allows for spare gloves, hat, goggles, etc. to fill the empty space while in the pack. The headband adjusts in before you put it on very quickly. It’s well designed. It is not a dainty hemet, but it breathes pretty well. I’d say it’s a nice balance between vented enough and warm enough for the downhill. Although in cold weather I will definitely ski with a hat underneath and a hood over the helmet.
    Cons: the brim makes it very hard to seat your goggles on the helmet.
    The weight and price are acceptable in my book. Can’t speak to the safety parameters for downhill skiing. I’d be interested to hear which models people here prefer.

  29. XXX_er July 5th, 2018 2:26 pm

    I have a fat head with corners like Herman Munster so only XXL sized helmets will fit and they are hard to find but the brand for me seems to have been Giro

    The Giro helmets with an adjuster wheel at the back work the best, the Giro Atlas for the bike and another Giro model for alpine skiing but those models don’t exist anymore

  30. Kevin Ristau July 5th, 2018 2:37 pm

    I have worn the Mammut Alpine Rider helmet. Dual certified for both skiing and climbing. Fit was ok, have replaced it mainly because the winter liner was uncomfortable on my (admittedly over large) ears.

    I now wear a Sweet Protection Igniter Alpinist helmet. Fantastic fit, also dual certified, and a much beefier helmet with lots of internal foam. Despite being a little heavier it is much more comfortable.

    I wear on the up as well as the down. Just get used to it. And I hate putting on a cold and sometimes snow filled helmet that has been on the outside of my pack for an hour.

  31. Nick July 5th, 2018 4:22 pm

    Lou, curious what your take is on ski areas that require their employees to wear protective headgear.

  32. Lou Dawson 2 July 5th, 2018 6:44 pm

    Nick, it seems a little silly, unless they have metrics to back it up, which I doubt. On the other hand, the only consequences are a few dollars spent and some mussed up hair, so I can think of worse “safety” mandates that an employer could come up with, like all instructors needing to wear highway department reflective vests for safe visibility. That would seem even more silly, but pretty much uses the same logic (or lack thereof) as mandating helmets that conform to minimal standards and are better at preventing scalp abrasions than saving lives. More, by the same logic they shouldn’t have ever let anyone teach or patrol on non release telemark bindings… What’s your opinion?

    I do rue the day when a guy could enjoy spotting a blond (or brunette, or whatever), hatless, female ripper scorching down the Ridge of Bell on Ajax, hair flying in the wind, now you can’t tell if it’s a guy or gal. I guess that’s gender equality.

    Lou

  33. XXX_er July 5th, 2018 8:10 pm

    We have the workers compensation board up here that mandate what kind of safety practices/ safety gear / hi vis is required on a job site, since a ski hill is a job site i could see a patroler or ski instructor needing head gear for insurance purposes

    same with a BC guide in BC needing a helmet if they wana be covered by workers comp which is why I asked earlier.

    I met a patroler on a releasable Linken telebinding setup except linkens didnt normaly release so i asked about his setup,

    He said the hill mandated releasable bindings so he screwed a voile CRB barrels in front of the linkens but they weren’t connected/didnt actualy do anything but everybody was happy!

  34. Owen July 5th, 2018 8:48 pm

    I choose to ski without a helmet and none of these comments are convincing me to change, especially the brush-ram-rod comment.
    Skiing is dangerous and if you push the limits, one day you will pay for it.
    It’s disturbing how some pro skiers are constantly evangelizing about avalanche safety (probably contractual obligations) then go ski big, exposed lines just after a big dump. The actions are inconsistent with their words. I’m thinking the helmet evangelizing is also a contractual obligation.

  35. See July 5th, 2018 9:40 pm

    While it may be true that more scalp abrasions will be prevented by helmets than lives saved, this statement is misleading and potentially harmful rhetoric, in my opinion. A lot of people will have headaches instead of serious concussions thanks to helmets, as well as being saved from scalp abrasions. I say this based on personal experience and observation, so it’s just anecdotal evidence, but good enough for me. And if you’re worried about helmets giving people a false sense of security, I’ve not seen much evidence of this. The safety claims made about freeride touring bindings seem way more exaggerated than anything I can recall from helmet makers— if they’ve been evangelizing, I missed it.

    That said, most of my friends don’t wear helmets in the bc and I don’t have a problem with that.

  36. Lou Dawson 2 July 6th, 2018 8:14 am

    If I knew helmets provided better protection I’d wear one more, on the other hand I totally agree that anyone who skis aggressively or does much tree skiing should go ahead and wear one. As well as being discerning and using the best available. As the argument goes “it’s better than nothing.” Along with that, I’d place emphasis that snowsports helmets are a spoof on consumers, bordering on a rip off, in that they’re marketed and assumed to be a significant enhancement in personal safety, when they clearly are not. Lou

  37. Lou Dawson 2 July 6th, 2018 9:19 am

    I’m not sure why I never made a “Ski Helmets” category. I did so this morning and marked as many relevant posts as I could easily find in our pile of 4,000 blog posts (!).

    https://www.wildsnow.com/category/ski-snowsport-helmets/

  38. Ron July 6th, 2018 11:07 am

    I guess I am in the category of helmet wearer but with little expectation of a outcome in a ski head contact accident. As far as backcountry skiing, I have transitioned from helmet carry and transition on and off to wearing a helmet all the time from start to finish. I started doing this a few years ago as I just didn’t like the hassle and time of dealing with another head piece. So, I started wearing my Mt. bike helmet which is a ‘Enduro” helmet and a bit more burly than a regular bike helmet. It is somewhat protective maybe one level less than resort ski helmet and has vents, place for goggles and a sun visor. This year I decide to get a Salomon Mt. Lab helmet for BC use as I wanted a white helmet but the same venting and weight as a bike helmet. This helmet goes on at the car and stays on the whole tour. I like this helmet a lot, it is not hot and can be warm too, I wish it had a visor. Anyway, I am sure we can all agree that if you are in a ski wreck you would want a helmet on instead of a ski cap.

  39. Andrew July 6th, 2018 12:27 pm

    Seems like the article is reverberated in the comments; blind faith that any helmet is better than no helmet when the math just doesn’t support that. Sure helmets are a great idea, but also know that buying the cheapest POS helmet you can find isn’t actually “better than nothing” in every case. I wear a helmet on decent, but not ascent. Fashion has nothing to do with it, temperatures do. I also don’t expect that helmet to withstand blunt force trauma from me super-manning into a tree at 60+ mph. That is just unrealistic. Great write-up, fun to read and discuss with my crew. As always Lou provides great perspective from decades of experience.

  40. Lou Dawson 2 July 6th, 2018 3:00 pm

    Thanks for chiming in Andrew! Lou

  41. Jim Pace July 6th, 2018 9:13 pm

    My 2 cents after finally replacing a very banged up BD climbing helmet, used for both bc skiing and climbing:
    1) I decided to go with one of the new duel certified (skiing class B, climbing) helmets intended for skimo racers. Mine’s a CAMP speed comp. Other manufactures are offering similar products. They all are heavier and hotter than new school climbing helmets, but they offer a MINIMUM of protection in side impacts more common in skiing. It’s a nicer helmet for attaching goggles and headlamps too.
    2) My alpine skiing helmet, intended for higher speeds, is a much burlier model certified to the newest World Cup EN 1077 class A standard. Way to heavy for the backcountry, but my phone tells me I occasionally get going upwards of 60mph in the resort. I can’t put my faith in class B helmets at any higher speed impacts than, say 25mph.
    3) Climbing impacts are much different than high speed impacts skiing or bike riding, ergo different standards apply. But any helmet is better than nothing when descending.
    4) I leave my helmet off when ascending, except in potential avalanche terrain.
    5) Nice journal article here: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2017/07/07/bjsports-2016-097086

  42. Steve July 6th, 2018 9:28 pm

    I think a problem with the data argument is that no one goes into the ski patrol office and tells them about the injury their helmet just prevented. Early last season I hooked a hidden branch, spun and tumbled backwards, bounced my helmet off who knows how many branches (very early season conditions) before stopping. Even though we all apparently know of similar stories of injury avoided because of a helmet, those experiences are dismissed as anecdotal. But we have hard numbers for fatalities of people killed or maimed while wearing a helmet. There’s no way to make any argument based on numbers that will never be available.
    I wear a helmet at the resort. Required to while patrolling. I occasionally wear one BC skiing, a climbing helmet. I don’t expect any helmet to save me in a head on collision. I just bought a removable chin bar helmet for mountain biking. Not because I think it’ll prevent TBI, but because it was a lot cheaper than a dental co-pay. It has MIPS “technology” which I argue is pure marketing. The amount of rotational play that the MIPS provides is miniscule compared to the rotation any helmet does when you actually hit the ground. What was the position of your helmet the last time you got up from a crash? I’ll bet it was skiwampus, proto-MIPS.

  43. Lou Dawson 2 July 7th, 2018 7:32 am

    All, what seems to cause confusion with the helmet issue is that the helmet is needed to perform and perhaps protect against two very different types of injuries. Firstly, and what they do well, is prevent scalp damage and to a lesser degree, skull fractures. The former being of varied severity and the latter of course always being serious. Secondly, and what’s important, .and what the archaic standards don’t address well is the now acknowledged seriousness of all degrees of concussion as well as brain injury that can occur whether you have skull fracture or not.

    In other words, if you hit your head and didn’t get a concussion, with a helmet on, you probably didn’t hit it very hard.

    For starters, in the case of many (if not most) head impacts there is no way without a fully instrumented helmet, connected to a computer, that you’ll know if a helmet actually “prevented” a concussion or brain injury. More importantly, simply looking at the standards and tests, as well as the degree of head acceleration that causes a concussion, it’s clear that most helmets do a very poor job with this, despite all associated mythology, hope, and anecdotal stories.

    One thing that’s really annoying is the constant drumbeat of media stories and internet memes such as “I’m in rehab the rest of my life for a brain injury — but it could have been worse if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet..” That is a tragic take in my opinion, considering how minimal snowsports helmets are. The more helpful meme would be “I’m in rehab the rest of my life for a life changing head injury while skiing, while wearing a helmet, so I’m devoting myself to activism for more stringent helmet standards, as my helmet could have done a much better job… in fact, I’m suing the helmet company to finance my non-profit ‘let’s make helmets better” organization”

  44. See July 7th, 2018 9:21 am

    As I understand it, helmets can be designed for a limited range of impacts, but will not work optimally for every conceivable hit, or multiple hits. An inch of stiff foam will absorb a lot of energy, but a big hit to the head is still going to cause serious damage and the small hits that can cause cumulative damage won’t be attenuated much. An inch of soft foam will deal with smaller hits better, but will bottom out in a big hit. So physics is a major obstacle to making the perfect helmet. In my opinion, making a thicker helmet with multi-density foam that will absorb a greater range of impacts would be a significant improvement, but it would be bulky and dorky looking. A helmet that people won’t wear is not going to be very effective. So, like a lot of things, helmets are a compromise. I think having a range of helmet options available to consumers, and stating clearly what design choices/compromises were made for each, is as good as it’s likely to get in the near future without some major technological breakthroughs. You pays your money, you takes your choice.

  45. JCoates July 7th, 2018 1:52 pm

    I cringed/vomited in my mouth a little when I read this: “I’m suing the helmet company to finance my non-profit ‘let’s make helmets better” organization”

    I always thought you were a Libertarian Lou, and never expected the words “sue the helmet company” to come out of your keyboard.

    Seriously, I would prefer a meme that said: “My helmet could have done a much better job…and I am going to push for better performance/standards. However. I accept that skiing in an inherently dangerous sport and if I decide to shred the gnar and ski outside of my abilities than I have to personally accept the consequences. I understand that sometimes no amount of protective equipment will save me from my own stupidity.”

  46. Lou2 July 7th, 2018 5:05 pm

    Just trying to make a strong point…your meme is better.

    It just kinda makes one pause when someone gets a bad injury, then advocates the safety gear they were using instead of questioning whether it could have done a better job. Lou

  47. marfro July 7th, 2018 11:05 pm

    Hi to all,

    If you get a chance have a look into the research done by Tony Islas (Wilderness Medical Society).
    His research confirms that (as many of you suspected) the standard might not be reflective of the requirements for protection.
    That being said, if your in in the safest car in the world and drive into something really solid then you aren’t going to come out unharmed. Helmets are kind of the same. Perhaps they fall into the category of harm minimisation rather than elimination.
    Having said that I have had just as many MTBIs with a helmet on as without.

  48. Lou Dawson 2 July 8th, 2018 11:04 am
  49. Clyde July 8th, 2018 8:24 pm

    Ah crap, the ghost of Clyde was resurrected. Backstory…I started researching helmet technology when I was the gear editor at Rock&Ice mag decades ago; then kept up with happenings writing for an industry mag. Mostly looking at climbing helmets but also ski and bike.

    I did a deep delve into the testing and standards at the time and found it was pretty much crap; seriously it was/is mostly cosmetic with a layer of lawyer on top. A lot of my comments were based on facts probably not known to most people who didn’t do the research. Back then, I could tell you the differences between a half dozen alphabet standards (ASTM to UIAA) and why most of them sucked. Purely lawsuit prevention marketing, not real safety.

    I’m out of the game now but still follow from the sidelines and still understand the physics and biology better than most. Rotational has always been a bigger problem than crushing because the latter protection can only do so much. I was one of the first to applaud MIPS but knew it was an incremental step. Anecdotes on helmet “saves” rarely made a real difference when investigated.

    I still stand by my old comments that ski helmets are mostly expensive fashion accessories sold to gullible consumers. Most helmets are inadequate and just give a false sense of security. The ones that really work, many people don’t adjust properly so they won’t perform when it counts. They do make nice over-priced hats on cold days and adjustable vents are nice.

    For parents, absolutely your kids should wear them! Thicker, softer foam with fragile brains makes kids helmets a no-brainer, so to speak. And therefore you need to set an example and wear yours…just as important and realistic as paying the Tooth Fairy.

    For readers of WildSnow, don’t even consider a helmet that doesn’t pass the climbing drop tests (penetration sucks). For anyone who has had a concussion or TBI, don’t even consider anything less than MIPS2 or whatever the marketing hype is these days (rotational forces suck). Blow off all the other BS, it means nothing (prove me wrong).

    Ciao, Clyde

  50. dmr July 9th, 2018 12:47 am

    @Lou – thanks for posting the link, an interesting read.

    @Clyde – appreciate the technical details- thanks for sharing your expertise and experience.

    What model of helmets meet the criteria you mention (MIPS, etc.)? What certifications? (FIS RH 2013? EN1077A? ASTM2040?)
    Thx

  51. Lou Dawson 2 July 9th, 2018 6:27 am

    Clyde, thanks for chiming in! Been missing you around here.

    All, when we first began publishing about helmets, most people appeared to think that simply covering your head with a hard plastic shell would do the trick. In ensuing years the discussion has elevated, we’ve all been educated to the fact that _acceleration_ (a.k.a., deceleration) is the name of the game, requiring the correct types of crushable liner materials, as well as adequate distance between your head and the shell of the helmet. Recently, the concept of rotation protection (MIPS) has been added to the mix.

    Ok, the discussion is elevated, now we need to elevate the helmet standards and resulting product. Keep the discussion going, you can bet some of the helmet apparatchiks are reading this and other screeds, especially the writings you find that prove most snowsports helmets are terrific at preventing hair loss through abrasion, but do little to prevent TBI.

    Lou

  52. Lou Dawson 2 July 9th, 2018 6:40 am

    DMR, for starters you want a dual certified helmet, for both climbing and snowsports. That would be

    1.) CE EN 1077, ASTM F2040-11 (class B, as class A is the unweildy version not suitable for ski touring)

    2.)CE EN 12492 (the climbing standard)

    Then, look for coverage at the back of your head, and MIPS rotation feature.

    After you find something with all the above, check Consumer Reports to be sure your choice holds up to their testing, as they find stuff like defective strap buckles that don’t come out in the pre-retail testing to the standards.

    In most cases I’d recommend a “hard shell” rather than the thin skinned foam helmets, because the hard shell is more resistant to damage. Another factor is while saving weight is incredibly important in ski touring gear, the super light helmets, without MIPS, might really be nothing more than a nice looking foam hat. Me, I’m not planning on wearing a helmet that requires gym training of my neck muscles, but I’m trying to be more realistic rather than simply picking the lightest “helmet” out there and thinking I’m doing much for my own personal safety — even if it keeps my head warm and mounts my headlamp.

    Sadly, it’s much harder to find obviously good snowsports helmets than those specific to bicycling. An example of a super high rated cycling helmet:
    https://www.backcountry.com/louis-garneau-raid-mips-rtr-helmet?s=a

    Following is probably a pretty good option from Smith, but I’d rather it was dual certified.

    https://www.backcountry.com/smith-vantage-mips-helmet?rr=t

    The only dual certified with MIPS option I could find is the Dynafit Beast, which does look good other than not having much ventilation. It also does not appear to be available in North America, though could be ordered from Europe.

    https://www.snowinn.com/ski-store/dynafit-beast-mips-helmet/

    Lou

  53. Lou Dawson 2 July 9th, 2018 6:55 am

    If any of you guys are doing major shopping, please share list of dual rated snowsports-climbing helmets you find. It’s not very many. And I’m not sure many have MIPS? Lou

  54. See July 9th, 2018 8:24 am

    Although some of the language has been mildly heated, I don’t see much actual disagreement here. It seems to come down to how you define “significant,” as in “(helmets are) marketed and assumed to be a significant enhancement in personal safety, which they clearly are not (Lou).” I’ve damaged a few helmets over the years, and have come to the conclusion that the enhancement is “significant,” but I’m no authority on the subject. One thing most of us probably agree on is that the best way to avoid brain injury is to use the organ in question. Skiing cautiously and understanding your environment is key.

  55. Lou Dawson 2 July 9th, 2018 10:34 am

    Hi See, yeah, if you count a scalp laceration bleeding so profusly you call 911, then perhaps significant applies. To refine the discussion, I think it’s important to do as the experts do, be talking about TBI vs injures that my be bloody or otherwise scary, but don’t classify as what the following link does a good job of explaining.

    http://www.traumaticbraininjury.com/understanding-tbi/what-is-traumatic-brain-injury/

    I’ll try to do a better job of being more specific in the writing. It’s only logical that a helmet protects against things like scalp lacerations, but it’s an open question as to how much it really mitigates or prevents TBI, especially in high energy situations. There is probably a marginal situation where the moderate performance of a helmet would prevent a TBI, but studies seem to be showing that’s not a statistically noticeable effect.

  56. Lou Dawson 2 July 9th, 2018 10:41 am

    I was just reading a helmet website that shall remain nameless, but they were using terminology like “distribute the impact” that is so wrong. A concussion or TBI doesn’t care how “distributed” the impact is. It cares how much time your head has to slow down before your brain bounces and atomizes inside your skull. More, it would seem to me that a distributed impact could prevent the liner from crushing and thus work against the deceleration you need! Lou

  57. atfred July 9th, 2018 4:13 pm

    Do any helmets, even football or motorcycle, handle TBI well?

    And, while on the subject, just why do jet fighter pilots wear helmets?

    Interesting discussion.

  58. Clyde July 9th, 2018 5:58 pm

    “Ok, the discussion is elevated, now we need to elevate the helmet standards and resulting product.”

    Oh, you so funny! Here’s the skinny on standards. They are created by insiders at a glacial speed. As one example, the American Alpine Club has virtually no say (nor much interest) on any UIAA standards, which take many years to change. Most of the voices are from manufacturers and a few insiders.

    Products like helmets and climbing ropes are designed down to the standards. There’s little reward for going beyond for a market that doesn’t understand the technology. When a company goes beyond, it often is for marketing instead of real safety improvement. For example, “cut resistant” ropes, a term that was easy to game but had little validity in the real world.

    Regarding brain injury, you have to get into some serious areas of physiology, physics, and a lot of ugly topics not suitable for the squeamish. Coup contrecoup was once thought major but adding rotational forces proved worse. More helmet vents means harder foam means less energy dispersion but still meets some standard somewhere. No helmet prevents TBI in adults, mostly about mitigating all the other nastiness.

    Helmet companies could do much better. But there is no incentive because the market doesn’t really care. A $200 helmet with $20 of material and $50 dollars of research is way better than a $300 helmet with $50 of material and $100 of research. Hey, it meets the minimal standards…that we created. Style matters more than substance.

  59. Lou2 July 9th, 2018 6:05 pm

    Thanks Clyde!

  60. See July 9th, 2018 7:12 pm

    My conclusion that helmets can provide significant protection is not based on studies or statistics, and I’m not just talking about lacerations. I’ve crashed a few times over the years and damaged a few helmets in the process. Examining the effects these crashes had on my helmets (mainly cracks and compressed foam), and recalling the forces involved, I was very glad I didn’t take those hits to a bare head. Also, I have been known to engage in “eyeball engineering” and it seems clear to me that a good helmet can absorb a significant amount of energy and provide some protection against concussion as well as scalp damage. I’m glad to say that most of the hits I’ve taken to the head have been pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, and I’m in no way trying to suggest that any helmet is going to provide more than an incremental improvement in protection. Furthermore, I don’t doubt that standards have been a major contributor to stagnation in helmet design, and to manufacturers focussing more on marketing than innovation. So thanks to the critics for pointing out that there is a lot of room for improvement in the way helmets are made and marketed. My foam hat is off to you.

  61. Pablo July 10th, 2018 2:32 am

    Ok, ski Helmets are no so safe as theyre suppossed to be.
    They don’t prevent TBI as needed (I’ve never hear a helmets brand saying they do it) because TBI prevention is a matter of increasing the time of deceleration.

    So…
    1- How much time uses a bare head at 20mph to decelerate to 0 mph?
    2- How much time uses a head at 20mph to decelerate to 0 mph when a foam hat in use?

    If the answer to the second question is just a little bigger than the first one, then a helmet is usefully and we should use it. Not to speak about other kind of injuries as lacerations, scars, etc…

    And I agree, we’ve to be critics and claim for more safety and better TBI proteccion to helmet manufacturers.
    But IMHO a helmet is better way to protect my head than my bare head.

  62. atfred July 10th, 2018 8:17 am

    as follow up to my rather facetious remark above, here’s an interesting article on the latest in fighter pilot head gear -http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2015/04/02/f-35-pilots-to-wear-400000-helmets-that-can-see-through-plane.html

    Lots of reasons found why they wear helmets, but none dealing with TBI .

  63. Jim Milstein July 10th, 2018 5:05 pm

    Speaking to Lou’s complaint about helmet vents and punji sticks, my foam hat, a CAMP Speed 2.0 has no vents in front or on top. So, when moving forward, it does offer protection from sharp sticks. It’s light at 267g (including the homemade foam visor), and cooler skiing uphill than a mesh ball cap. It’s too hot uphill when any hat is too hot uphill. So I leave it on. Warmth is supplied as needed by a combination of hoody and parka hoods. I use hyper-ventilated goggles from Julbo and ski with them uphill and down too, unless it’s really warm late spring or early summer skiing, when I give up the goggles and go with glasses but keep the foam hat on.

  64. XXX_er July 11th, 2018 11:35 am

    If anyone has issues with sweat in their eyes while wearing a bike helmet or ski helmet on the up, try one of those stretchy skull caps from Under Armour, they advertise it will wick the sweat away from yer body.

    IME it wets out but the sweat evaporates so i don’t get it in my eyes, its thin enough material to not affect helmet fit

    ” And, while on the subject, just why do jet fighter pilots wear helmets? ”

    ya gotta have some where to write Maverick or Jester

  65. Lou Dawson 2 July 11th, 2018 11:54 am

    I did some research, apparently each fighter pilot helmet costs upwards of $500,000, and folks wonder why kamikazes wear helmets… I was looking for jokes, as “why do fighter pilots wear helmets?” would be a good lead in… the kids in their rockets with wings might have some clever answers for that Lou

  66. atfred July 11th, 2018 5:23 pm

    Here’s the best answers I found; alas, no mention of TBI

    There are several reasons:

    A helmet provides head protection. A fighter airplane can make many sudden turns and a helmet provides reduction of the risk of a head injury.

    If the pilot needs to eject the airplane, helmet is needed to protect from wind blast, in addition to what I mentioned #1.

    Helmets play an important role in noise attenuation.

    The mic and headphones are mounted in the helmet.

    Many helmets contain a sun visor, hence the pilot does not require to use sunglasses.

    Modern helmets have a mounted display, night vision support. The latest ones help to see the pilot in any direction they desire, and even through the airplane.

    Oxygen supply mask can be directly mounted to the helmet.

    fred

  67. See July 11th, 2018 8:08 pm

    I don’t know much about MIPS, but it makes sense that reducing “rotational forces” could be beneficial. So I have wondered for a long time if mounting cameras on helmets is potentially problematic for reasons beyond what old guys like me used to refer to as “Kodachrome courage.”

  68. Lou Dawson 2 July 12th, 2018 6:31 am

    Any time you mod PPE such as helmet you run the risk of compromising safety performance, key is to do the mods intelligently. For example, a helmet cam or lamp should be mounted in such a way that it breaks away fairly easily in “real” fall or even catching on a tree branch for that matter. Imagine if the camera mount was super strong, that would be incredibly dangerous. This is when the Dynafit helmet with slick built-in lamp makes tons of sense, provided they can do that and still get all the certs as well as including mips, but of course… Lou

  69. XXX_er July 12th, 2018 12:49 pm

    I made a helmet mount for my handlebar-mount bike light from a an old brake lever mount with a little creative dremel work.

    Then I mounted the light and switch to the helmet using a velcro strap n ring ( like a ski strap ) thru the vent holes so I didn’t need to put any holes or glue on the helmet surface

    The mount works well/stays put, just be careful switching from low to high on the downhill or it will be very dark … might get to test that helmet !

  70. Steve July 12th, 2018 5:54 pm

    This thread is just one example of why I like wildsnow.com so much. Intelligent, thoughtful, respectful comments that really make you think and learn. What I get out of this discussion is: probably no helmet on the market (or any current technology even) in any sport will protect against TBI from your brain bouncing or rotating inside your skull. That said, helmets do protect against plenty of other injuries, so if you’re looking to stack the odds in your favor, get one that’s comfortable.
    Based on my use of a MIPS bike helmet (Bell Super 3R), I would have to be shown some very convincing data that MIPS offers any additional rotational protection to what’s already inherent in the way a normal helmet at normal tightness rotates on impact.
    Personally, I will continue to wear a helmet because of the argument that in a 20 mph crash or collision with a branch, I would rather have one on than not. But I won’t expect it to keep me from getting a TBI if I ski off a cliff. And the community should hold manufacturers feet to the fire if (when) they claim a benefit that isn’t supported by research.

  71. Simon Kelly July 13th, 2018 6:39 am

    @Steve – great summary. Thank you.

  72. Lou Dawson 2 July 13th, 2018 7:15 am

    Thanks Steve, it was years ago when we noticed how most of the internet skiing forums were dominated by posturing and profane shouters and bullies, and level discourse was the exception. We decided right away to attempt being the opposite. While we got some resistance at first by people who loved hopping around from forum to forum and doing their shouting, things calmed down and folks found where they fit in, WildSnow or somewhere else. Thanks for noticing, it actually took quite a bit of work to get here.

    Regarding helmets, as Clyde has alluded to, don’t expect any great changes in the industry, other than more helmets that go to both skiing and climbing standard. But we’ll see gradual improvement of snowsports helmets if 3rd party folks such as Vermont and Consumer Reports make their testing more demanding, and show that some helmets do better than others. Meanwhile, yes, wear the pretty plastic hat knowing what it does and does not do. And don’t be concerned when you feel that person shouting at you about wearing a helmet should be shouting at the manufacturers instead.

    Lou





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  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

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