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“We’ve examined the damaged helmet you sent back to us,” Leedom helmet designer Sean Horita told me over the phone. “It appears that your brain sustained a force equal to 200 g’s when it hit the snow.” Two hundred g’s? Don’t fighter pilots pass out when they hit something like seven g’s? “The helmet’s ribs were partially crushed, but you didn’t max it out.”
There’s been a lot of debate recently over just how effective helmets are in preventing ski injuries. Here are my two cents: My brain hit 200 g’s in that crash last March; without the helmet, the minor concussion I walked away with could have been a lot worse. Earlier in the season, I’d similarly smashed my head while skiing, but without a helmet on, and it knocked me drooling stupid. Intending to notexperience that sensation again, I underwent my first helmeted ski season¿and learned quite a bit.
If you decide to ski with a helmet (and yes, after last winter, I recommend it), don’t just rush out and buy the cheapest one you can find; it probably won’t offer you much in the way of protection. On the other hand, don’t buy the heaviest, lunkiest, most Harley-esque one out there, either. You’re going to wear your helmet all the time. Comfort is paramount.
To get that comfort, several factors come into play: fit (overly tight helmets promote headaches; overly loose ones facilitate spinal injuries); ventilation (especially if you ski vigorously or in warm, sunny climes); weight (unless you were a linebacker in college and like the feel of something solid and heavy covering your skull); and audibility (though you could, of course, learn to read lips).
Of these considerations, fit is far and away the most important. A lot of helmet sellers¿manufacturers and dealers alike¿will tell you that their helmets fit any size or shape head. The company has studied umpteen thousand human heads, and it’s got the sizing just right, so its helmets fit everyone. Don’t believe the hype. No one company has a helmet for every head. As far as fit goes, heads are like feet, and helmets are like ski boots. You need to spend time trying on different models from different manufacturers until you find the one that works best for you. For instance, I’ve got a relatively oval head. Giros and Leedoms fit me well, but in a Boeri my head feels slightly squeezed from front to back. If your head is rounder than mine, you might have the opposite experience. To find out for sure, do your research, even if it means driving across town to another store with a different selection. (Many retail shops carry helmets from only one or two companies.) And if a helmet feels good, be sure to wear it for at least five minutes to see if any aches develop over time. All that for a glorified ski hat? If you don’t want to spend upwards of $100 on something that’ll give you a migraine every time you ski, yeah.
As you get the fit thing dialed, seriously consider the livability of the helmets you’re looking at. The first key factor is weight: The lighter the lid, the less encumbered you’ll feel. Boeri’s Axis Performance ($135¿$165; www.boeriusa.com) is a notably lightweight helmet with an Outlast liner that helps with temperature management. Unlike a lot of helmets, the Axis also has exceptionally good audibility, so you can hear your buddies when they make plans for après beers.
The ear holes on the Giro Ravine ($125¿$180; 800-969-4476, www.giro.com) are also pretty large, contributing to a remarkable overall wearability. A sliding device on the top of the helmet opens and closes 10 vents simultaneously, which is a good thing if you tend to overheat in bumps and crud.
There’s a slide device on the Leedom Limit High Performance ($140; 781-440-0633, www.leedomhelmets.com), too. It controls the amount of airflow through two hidden intakes on the helmet’s forward seam, from which air swirls through the helmet’s uniquely ribbed interior and out the back end. (The rribs are part of the reason most Leedom helmets are rated to Snell specifications, the strictest in the snow-sport world.) The Limit’s hard plastic shell ends just above the ears, reducing weight, improving audibility, and making the thing easier to put on.
Still, the Limit is a relatively conservative iteration of the chopped-above-the-ears concept popular with the helmet-wearing halfpipe crowd. More radical is the Red Decaf ($90; 800-881-3138, www.burton.com), a lightweight, extremely ventilated helmet that would be most at home on the head of a new-school jibber hanging out on the Blackcomb Glacier in July. Devoid of ear coverings, it’s not for Mainers or Minnesotans, but it’ll let you hear every gasp of amazement from the crowd when you stick that switch misty 7.