Know Your Helmet Lingo

While making the decision to wear a helmet is a huge step, purchasing the equipment is what actually matters. Before stopping by your local ski and board shop, you should be familiar with the parts of the helmet; indicating which components are most important to your riding style will guide your sales assistant to the perfect fit. I wish I understood helmet parts and construction before buying my first helmet—prior knowledge would have led to a more informed purchase. So, for your convenience (and wallet), below are the parts and construction vocabulary essential to finding your dream helmet.


Shell: The shell is the rigid outer layer of the helmet. Usually made of high-impact plastic, this is the part of the helmet that will protect you from sharp objects and the initial impact. The shell’s construction will also spread the shock of impact over a larger area of the helmet.

Liner: This is the softer, Styrofoam-looking material found on the inside of the helmet. Designed to absorb most of the impact, this is typically made from expanded polystyrene foam. This component protects your head by compressing, thus lessening the force of impact.

Injection-molded helmets: The most durable helmets around, injection-molded pieces are made of expanded polystyrene foam that has been bonded to a separate shell. These are often more expensive but longer-lasting.

In-mold helmets: In-mold helmets consist of a single molding process wherein the shell is attached to shock-absorbing foam. These helmets are often very sleek and light, and—while the cheaper option—must be replaced frequently.


The Top 3 Reasons Why You Should Wear a Helmet

Helmets protect your head. Duh. Helmets work to absorb and distribute the shock of a hard impact. Imagine: you’re skiing a glade and WHAM, a low-hanging branch catches you off-guard, sending you flying into the woods. Not only will your helmet provide protection from the hard, potentially sharp branch, but it will decrease potential damage if you go head-first into another tree.

They protect against surface injuries. The helmet’s primary responsibility is to protect against surface injuries, such as fractured skulls and lacerations. In fact, increased helmet usage has reduced this type of injury by 50% from 2003. Helmets don’t make riders immune to head trauma, but they often reduce the severity of the injury.

You have no reason not to. If you’re not accustomed to wearing a helmet, think about why you’ve made this decision. Is it because they can get hot? Are you worried you won’t be able to hear your music? Is it purely a vanity thing? As you’ve already figured out, I’m not here to judge. However, the benefits of wearing a helmet far outweigh any counterarguments. What’s more important: that picture of you nailing a misty flip or staying safe if the trick fails?

How My Helmet Saved My Life

If you, like me, spend any consistent time on the slopes, helmet usage is often a factor when distinguishing veteran shredders from newbies. Newer skiers and boarders will likely focus on style and comfort, not safety. You can spot them by their expensive headbands, ear muffs, and hats. Experienced shredders, however, know the importance of safety; large, sleek helmets and reflective goggles are tell-tale signs of a frequent and life-long skier.

I, however, haven’t always been so quick on the uptake. As a teenager and young adult, I was more concerned with “looking the part” than anything else. Not wanting a bulky, fluorescent helmet to detract from my speed and stunts, I opted for a more stylish beanie when heading out with my skis. I began wearing a helmet reluctantly, and only at the insistence of my friends and family. Until the accident, I hadn’t realized the importance of safety.

I remember the day like it was just last week. My sister and I had come to the top of a double-black diamond trail. The drop was steep, but not enough to intimidate us into another route. One hundred feet wide, half a mile long, and made of icy corduroy—we’d seen worse. She went first, dropping down into a low tuck and bombing straight through. It looked like there was enough space and snow at the bottom to make for a smooth landing, but she fell onto her side to facilitate a faster stop, waving up at me to indicate that she was okay. I was up next.

Always the more cautious skier, I began the run with a few quick slalom turns before setting my skies straight. Something happened in the space between these turns and the attempt to point my tips downward—I caught an edge on the ice and, in a split second, lost control. I fell onto my side in an attempt to prevent serious injury. This was the worst decision I could have made; the force of my body hitting the ground only sped up the uncontrollable descent. I closed my eyes and, when I opened them, found myself several feet into the woods at the bottom of the trail.

I looked up to see my sister skating toward me in a panic. My gear was scattered across the side of the mountain. I’d lost both poles, a ski, a glove, and my goggles—a total yard sale. The helmet remained on my head, but felt strange. I took it off to find it cracked almost completely in half, held together by the fibers of my chin strap and adjustable pads. Stunned, we called ski patrol, who then helped me into an ambulance. I was diagnosed with a concussion and allowed to go home that evening.

Though my recovery was quick and relatively painless, that helmet, cracked open and lying in the snow, haunts me. In the years since, I’ve come to appreciate ski safety, as well as the types of helmets and the new technology available to consumers. With recent equipment developments, helmets can be fashionable and have utility beyond providing a hard surface between your head and the rocks below. Ski safety is a lesson I won’t soon forget, and this site explores just a few of the nuances of helmet design and construction.


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