They all protect your head, but understanding how ski and snowboard helmets are made, and the latest helmet technology, from magnetic buckles to BOA fit systems to MIPS, will help you choose the right one for you. If you have a crash, it's a good idea to get your helmet checked out before using it again.
ABS vs in-mould construction
Some helmets have a tough outer shell, usually made from a tough, durable, mouldable plastic called ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) over a shock-absorbing inner. Others have an in-mould construction, where liner and shell are fused together, cutting weight and slimming down the helmet. It also makes it easier to add more venting. Some helmets combine the two builds – tough ABS on top for example, and lighter in-mould at the sides to give a lower profile.
Do adjust chin and ear straps for a close fit – a loose or undone helmet might not stay on or protect properly if you fall. A soft cover or fleece over the strap prevents chin chafe. Some helmets have a bright buckle so other people can easily spot it in an emergency. Buckles may slide or clip together; if possible try for ease of use while wearing before you buy. The latest trick is to make the buckle magnetic so it's both more secure and easier to put the two ends together without looking.
Many helmets have a dial at the back so you can customise fit by tightening or loosening a fit system inside. The system may tighten just at the sides or all around the head; some also can also be adjusted vertically for a better fit at the back of the neck and to avoid a dodgy gap between helmet and goggles. Fit systems are often plastic, but some brands employ tough, comfortable BOA brand cables, also used for in snowboard boots for example. A helmet with an elastic inner, or even without any kind of a fit adjuster, may fit perfectly – but do try on to check.
Most helmets have a strap, clip or bungee on the back to keep goggles in place, which may be detachable if you prefer to style it out and wear goggles under helmet. Grooves around the helmet also help prevent goggles moving. Check how well your goggles fit with a helmet before you buy it (the clip can sometimes be moved around to help goggle fit). Many helmet manufacturers make goggles designed to fit seamlessly with their helmets, but others may work just as well.
Inner linings and padding help make the helmet more comfortable, and moisture-wicking versions draw sweat away from the head, so being able to remove and wash yours is a bonus. Some have an anti-microbial treatment to help them stay fresh.
Multi-Directional Impact Protection or MIPS is a safety extra used in several brands of helmet. It's designed to give extra protection from brain injury in falls where you take a hit from an angle rather than straight on. In these cases it's more likely the brain will be damaged by moving around in the skull. The outer shell of a helmet with MIPS can easily move over an additional inner layer, which helps the helmet absorb and redirect damaging rotational forces before they reach the brain. Some brands incorportate their own technology to offer the same kind of protection, by using different densities of protective EPS foam for example.
You can detach the earpads from many helmets – handy when the weather heats up or if you’d like to swap in audio-compatible versions. Some earpads are joined via a protective neck piece, and some have a hollowed out area with the aim of improving hearing, and for inserting your chosen headphones. Race helmets must have ear protection.
All ski/snowboard helmets must meet the European safety standard for skull protection, but some exceed its demands, by focusing on increased protection from brain damage for example. All the helmets we review meet European standard CE EN 1077. You might see ASTM F2040 too, a stringent American standard that some also satisfy, and CE EN 12492 for climbing and mountaineering. Multi-season helmets also meet CE EN 1078 for bike, skateboard and inline skating.
All helmets have some form of venting to keep your head cool on the go. Some rely on open vents that draw cool air in over your goggles and through channels in the liner, after which warm air comes out through vents at the back. Others have extra adjustable vents, which can be manually opened and closed to let in more or less air. There's sometimes a membrane over the vent holes, or a removable part of the lining, to stop water getting in. The vents over goggles also help stop steaming up.