Ski and snowboard helmets are designed with different styles and technologies, but they all have one concept in common: not just to keep your head warm – more importantly, to protect your head from a crash on the mountain. Understanding how helmets are made and the latest technology behind them will help you in selecting a ski or snowboard helmet that is right for you. Our pros at Christy Sports are standing by to help you make that most important investment.
A Helmet’s Core
To best understand helmet technology and why it is important, let’s start with the core of a helmet. Sometimes referred to as the “liner,” the foam core is the engine of your ski/snowboard helmet. It’s made of shock absorbing materials that reduce the effect of impact should you hit your head when falling down. Traditionally, these have been made of EPS – expanded polystyrene – a light rigid foam that also adds warmth.
More recently, manufacturers have experimented with different types of foam, as well as using it in varying densities that perform better according to how hard and how often you hit your head. The core may also incorporate other types of material or construction designed to help spread the force laterally across the helmet; or better protect from rotational forces that can damage the brain, particularly if you hit your head at an angle rather than straight on.
Most helmets are designed with one of the following four technologies: In-Mould, Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, Hybrid Construction, and the BIG one – MIPS Technology. Most popular and most common are In-Mould helmets. This construction type involves the foam core and shell fused together, cutting weight and slimming down the helmet. In-Mould helmets are also made easier for added venting. Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene or ABS technology involves a tough outer shell made from a durable, moldable plastic over a separate shock-absorbing foam core. Believe it or not, this is the same stuff Lego makes their toys from! Hybrid construction helmets combine the two builds – In-Mould and ABS – for optimal ratio of strength and weight.
Most recent helmet technology to hit the forefront of both style and safety standards is MIPS – Multi-directional Impact Protection System. Considered a leading slip-plane technology in the industry, MIPS is designed to reduce rotational forces that can result from certain impacts. This added protection system has been proven to reduce rotational motion, when implemented in a helmet, by redirecting energies and forces otherwise transmitted to the brain. The result is a low-friction, movable layer between the liner and the helmet shell, which helps decrease the rotational acceleration of your brain inside your skull after impact.
What Is MIPS And Why Is It Important?
Far beyond simply another color option or headphone-integrated helmet, MIPS was first developed by Swedish neurosurgeon Hans von Holst. In 1997, von Holst, who was tired of seeing similar brain injuries in athletes, began to investigate how to build a safer helmet. Studying the brain’s built-in defenses, von Holst and his team of biomechanical engineers developed a corresponding amplification to be built into helmets. The result: von Holst’s branded MIPS.
MIPS technology mimics the brain’s protective structure by reducing rotational forces caused by angled impacts to the head. The helmet’s shell and liner are separated by a low friction layer which allows the helmet to slide, noticeably reducing trauma to the brain in the event of slanted/angled impacts. These types of impacts are considerably more common in action sports compared to blunt force impacts, which traditional helmets are typically tested for.
Most ski/snowboard accidents do not involve a fall in a direct, vertical impact to the head, but can hit fixed objects at slanted angles more often. In fact, rotational impacts account for majority of accidents and subsequent brain injury. The brain’s built-in protective mechanism allows the brain to slide after impact on a layer of cerebrospinal fluid found between the skull and brain tissue. According to MIPS, this helmet system reduces rotational impact on brain tissue by as much as 50 percent over a traditional helmet.
The first ski/snowboard helmets equipped with MIPS were introduced in 2010, when Swedish
body armor brand, POC, began building it into some of its top helmets like the Backcountry Receptor MIPS. Since then, it hasn’t taken long for other helmet manufactures to jump on board with POC and implement MIPS-equipped helmet models including: Smith’s line of MIPS helmets for both men and women, Sweet Protection’s Switcher MIPS, as well as a variety of Giro, Anon, and Bern lines. Giro also makes a great line of kids helmets like the Giro Crue MIPS Junior or Giro Nine MIPS Junior. Many of these can be fitted for and picked up at any of our Christy Sports locations.
MIPS Industry Standards
ALL ski/snowboard helmets – including MIPS – must meet the European safety standard (CE EN 1077) for skull protection. Some companies, however, exceed this demand by focusing on increased protection from brain damage. Here in the states, helmets – both standard and MIPS alike – must also meet our stringent ASTM F2040 American standard.
As industry knowledge of MIPS increases, not only are more ski/snowboard helmet designers signing on, but other sports company designers are as well, ranging from climbing and mountaineering to skateboard and inline skating, to all types of cycling and motorcycles, to equestrian sports. As this technology increases with the demand in safety standards, MIPS also now offers multiple style and price-point options for all personalities and budgets – making those few extra dollars spent today just might save you a lot more cash and medical bills tomorrow. Be safe and see you out there!