Advances in Helmet Technology Make it Worth Updating Your Lid

New materials might protect you from serious injuries—even those that don’t seem serious.

Last season, 1.3 million snow sports helmets were sold in the U.S., up three percent from the year before and 25 percent from the 2008–’09 season. Even in one of the toughest snow and retail years in recent decades, helmet sales continue to rise.

The consistent upward trend can partially be attributed to innovations in comfort, fit, and protection, according to Kelly Davis, the director of research at Snowsports Industries America (SIA). While safety experts agree widespread helmet use has reduced the frequency of serious head injuries, today’s lids don’t eliminate all the risks. In fact, in some cases, relatively low-impact falls and collisions can be just as dangerous as plowing into a blue spruce or landing a cliff-drop on your cranium.

A typical helmet disperses about 75 percent of the force of a direct blow to the head, though the impact may still be fatal, according to Dr. Jasper Shealy, a professor specializing in human factors engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a helmet expert.

“Research shows that a [traditional] helmet can reduce brain injury if an incident involves a direct impact with a fixed object like a wooden post [or a tree],” said Shealy.

In a traditional helmet, the expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner shatters on contact as it—not your skull—takes a severe blunt-force impact, protecting you from some skull fractures and contusions. Yet in lower velocity falls or less-direct impacts, such as a glancing blow to a tree branch or the ski slope, the EPS might not crack. Your brain will still slosh around in your skull, likely resulting in injury.

“We’ve seen helmets reduce the incidence of severe traumatic brain injuries, but we are still seeing many concussions,” said Dr. Stewart Levy, the chief of neurosurgery and neurotrauma at St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver, Colo. “There has been a shift in the severity of brain injuries from more severe to more mild, which is good, but we would like a decrease in mild brain injuries.”

MIPS, a Swedish helmet company, might have a solution. Our friends at break down the MIPS technology and review some new ski-specific lids that incorporate it. To read more about MIPS helmets, click here.