With backcountry skiing becoming more and more popular in recent years and ski touring equipment evolving from skinny skis and leather boots with minimal ankle support and bindings that simply did not release to todays engineered backcountry equipment is allowing backcountry skiers to travel further, higher and safer than ever before. This evolution of gear has further brought converts from the ream of the resort to the glory of the backcountry in numbers greater than ever seen in the past.
While this change has resulted in significant expenditures of our hard-earned cash on all this wonderful new and safe equipment, I see an interesting phenomenon while out on the mountains these days—helmets are not evolving.
Helmets not evolving? What is this guy talking about?
Ski and Snowboard helmets were designed to protect our heads from moderate to high speed impact while racing down the slopes at our favorite resort. Impacts with a tree, lift tower or the ground. Visualize for a moment a boarder or skier falling and think about how different this activity and impact event is compared to falling off a bicycle. Would you wear a bicycle helmet at the resort? Helmets for various activities are engineered for the impact characteristics of the intend activity.
Now we introduce climbing and mountaineering. Let’s repeat our visualization exercise above and imagine an event where your climbing helmet just saved your life. You probably envisioned an event where rock or ice fell from above and smacked hard on the top of your helmet—am I right?
I am NOT an engineer, nor qualified to discuss the different design characteristic that allow a product to be provided with a certification from one of the organizations like ASTM or CE. However as a curious consumer, I have noticed that the many of the helmets we use in our outdoor adventures are not certified (and thus one can assume not engineered) for the mixed risks we as backcountry skiers (or boarders) and ski mountaineers are exposed to.
Fortunately there are a handful of manufacturers that now offer helmets engineered to protect our heads from skiing or climbing events. One maker listed in 2013 is no longer making their climbing/skiing version, but two major company now are added to the limited number of makers. Below is a short list of just a few I was able to find after a brief Internet search session. Please let me know if you become aware of additional helmets and I will update this list.
Originally published 12/15/2013; updated November 2015 & December 2015.