You're running out of excuses for not wearing a helmet when you ski. Helmets are everywhere -- not just on tree-bashing hardcores and the under-seven set -- in part because of dramatic improvements in the lids themselves. Weight is down, style is up, fit is light years better, venting actually works, and new manufacturers have increased the number of helmet options from which to choose.
Even though there's a profusion of choices, the process of selecting a helmet doesn't have to be brain surgery. Focus on two things. First, look only at helmets that pass one of the three safety standards: CE, ASTM, or Snell. Second, find a helmet that fits. It should be snug but not tight, with good visibility and no movement when you mosh your head around or go inverted.
After that, it's all personal preference. Some comfort-enhancing trends include visors, removable ear flaps, and drop liners for more warmth in shorty shells. Indeed, short shells are one of the hottest styles this season: They're lighter, less restricting, and don' t muffle sounds as much as traditional helmets do. Of course, they also offer less protection than a full-coverage gourd, but a lot of people think the sensory deprivation of a full helmet can be detrimental in its own right.
Click on the related links at the bottom of the page for five new helmets that are worth a look.
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With all these acronyms floating around, it's easy to get confused about certification, which helmets meet which standards, and what it all means. There are indeed important differences between the certification standards. Consultants Europe (CE), the European standard, aims to reduce the frequency of mild concussions, the most common winter-sports head injury; CE is also more oriented toward protection from objects that puncture, like ski poles and tree branches. American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM), the new American standard, is slightly more difficult to pass and places its emphasis on absorbing higher-speed impacts. Snell, a private foundation, has set even more stringent standards than CE or ASTM, and Snell-approved ski helmets will provide more coverage but tend to be heavier. So, should you care about standards? Put it this way: The differences among standards are far less than the differences between wearing and not wearing a helmet. Just consider lids that pass one of the standards, then pick a helmet that feels and looks so good you'll want to wear it every day.
The helmet-goggle-incompatibility dilemma is one of the main reasons people go bareheaded. Helmets can push goggles onto the bridge of your nose, they can block goggles' venting, and some of the bigger goggle frames won't fit inside a helmet at all. Helmets are also necessarily wider than heads, and that extra width pulls traditional goggle straps, and thus the goggle itself, away from the face. All of which explains why nearly every goggle manufacturer now has a helmet-specific model, usually with a new shape, sometimes with new venting, and most definitely with a wider strap mounting point.
For the most part, these new goggles are much improved, with fits and features that complement helmets instead of fighting them. The Smith Spheric Triad ($110 with mirror lenses, $90 otherwise) is exquisitely styled and technically awesome. It fits comfortably in every helmet I tested, offers a wide field of vision, and, thanks to the new spherical lens shape, has great optics. Scott's High Voltage Six ($99) is nipping at the Smith's heels, with an excellent fit, spherical lens, and some additional foam at the top to avoid gaper gap (one of the Smith's few weaknesses). The foam on Briko's Icarus ($99) is super plush, the goggle's smaller shape fits well in even the most constricting helmet without severely restricting vision, and a two-position strap frame pivots to make the goggle equally wearable with or without a helmet.