How often should you replace your ski helmet?

If you think about what you put inside it, maybe it’s worth remembering how long you’ve had your current ski helmet. How do you know when it’s time to replace your head protection?

Helmet specialist Giro recommends replacing your ski helmet every three to five years, depending on usage and handling:

“This is based on observation of the average user, and factors like wear over time, weather, handling, the potential for degradation from personal care products like sunscreen or bug spray, and the simple fact that helmets do improve over time.

“While helmets kept in good condition can provide protective capability beyond the 3-5 year recommended lifespan, it’s also true that they can degrade over time.”

get your ski helmet checked over

Most importantly, when your helmet suffers an impact, you must get it checked over or replaced immediately even if there is no visible damage.

According to Giro: “This is because helmet liners are made to absorb energy from impacts and they do this through their own degradation or destruction – like an airbag in a car. If the liner is compromised from an impact or other factors, it may not offer the full protective capability it was designed to provide.”

Even if you don’t have an accident and bang your ski helmet directly, it can still suffer knocks from chairlift barriers etc while you are on the slopes. Bear in mind too that the protective core of your helmet experiences prolonged pressure from your head, minor bangs in transit and from being placed on hard surfaces etc.

Packing your helmet full of ski clothing during travel can also have an ongoing (albeit minimal) effect on its protective ability. The cumulative effects of pressure and impacts over time mean the cushioned core of your ski helmet will gradually lose volume, leaving it less effective if you fall or are involved in an accident.

Update for Comfort and safety

A ski helmet that has a few visible dings and dents, and is more than five years old, is one that probably needs replacing. In addition to the safety factor, technology and materials improve over time, as do comfort options – like detachable ear pads, Bluetooth®, visors and air vents.

We advise:

  1. Save money on ski clothing by buying and selling second hand, and divert your budget towards a good quality ski helmet to protect yourself on the piste.
  2. When buying preloved ski equipment, or after a prolonged period away from the ski slopes, always get it checked over by a professional before use. Make friends with your local ski shop – their expertise could prove vital.

Beginner ski tips

Apart from kitting yourself up with the right clothing and equipment, what else do you need to know as a novice on the ski slopes? These tips for a beginner skier may help…

beginner ski tips:

SKI BOOTS: They will feel tight but not so much they cause discomfort. Don’t be tempted to go up a size, but do head back to the hire shop for a refit if they really cause you grief. They should not cause you to wince (or worse) or cut off circulation.

ALCOHOL: Tempting as a boozy lunch may be, save your units for the après – once you are back in resort and off your skis. If you are involved in an accident, you are likely to be breathalysed by the piste police. All skiers should be aware: in Italy, is illegal to ski/snowboard under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Ditto in France, also Colorado and other ski resorts in the US.

Glass of gin and tonic on window ledge in ski resort at evening
Save the G&T for post-ski relaxation

LESSONS: Your ski trip will be so much better if you get tuition in the basic techniques. YouTube is not a ski instructor – although watching some tutorials before you go is helpful. Try lessons on a local dry slope or indoor ski centre as your ski trip approaches. Beginner ski tip: book early as UK practice slopes are very popular, especially if you want the run up to your ski trip.

THE LAST RUN OF THE DAY: Don’t be tempted (or talked into) finishing your day on the slopes with a tricky piste. Runs can get icy/slushy depending on temperatures, as well as busy towards the end of the day. Visibility deteriorates and fatigue sets in. Ending your ski day on a slope within your abilities will enable you to avoid terror, possible injuries and start the following morning feeling confident and raring to go.

NEVER SKI ALONE: Applies to all skiers but especially if you are a beginner, lack technique or confidence. You will feel much happier and be much safer if you have someone keeping an eye on you.

Pre-ski trip prep:

KNOW YOUR PISTE ETIQUETTE: Familiarise yourself with the Skiers’ Code of Conduct. Keep your speed down, always look uphill before you set off, stop at the side of the piste rather than in the middle, avoid stopping at bottleneck points, be aware of what’s going on around you.
Find out more: 5 ways to stay safe on the slopes

PRE-SKI FITNESS: Stamina and aerobic fitness will pay dividends. A lot of skiing consists of hiking around carrying heavy, awkward equipment like skis and ski boots. Then there is the stress on your legs, feet and ankles, shoulders and abs. Make squats and wall sits your new BFFs (best fitness friends).
Visit our Ski Fit partner My Life Tonic for tips and videos (plus a discount code via our Partners page here).

Got any beginner skier tips? Share them with us on the Facebook or Instagram pages.

6 ways to stay safe on the slopes

High profile cases serve to put the risk of ski accidents front of mind, so what can you do to stay safe on the slopes for your next ski trip?

Firstly, think positive. The statistics show that your chances of hurting yourself while skiing are low. French injury rates stand at just over two injuries per 1,000 skier days: a tiny risk.

But there’s still a lot you can do to help keep yourself safe on the slopes.

Piste studies show that ski accidents are more common on days when temperatures are mild, snow consistency is less predictable and the slopes are busier. Take particular caution on relatively gentle blue pistes where you’re most likely to encounter skiers of mixed ability.

In addition to ‘be wary on the blue’, watch your speed, and always look up the slope before you set off, these 6 ways will help you avoid injury on your next ski trip:

1 Wear a helmet

Head injuries represent less than 4% of piste injuries, and wearing a helmet reduces your chance of head injury by 35%.

READ MORE: Why we should all be wearing a ski helmet

2 Get in shape before you go

The organisation Mėdecins de Montagne warns that the highest chance of injury comes on day 2 of your ski trip, the infamous “Second Day Syndrome”, with people who are unfit at highest risk.

Shape up before you go and stretch every day while you’re in the mountains, using video ski fit videos from our fitness partner My Life Tonic, at 50% discount using the code WHOSKI50.

3 Stick to the piste

The number of fatal accidents on marked slopes has declined in recent years. However, off-piste deaths have risen due to increased numbers of free-ride skiers combined with more unpredictable snow caused by greater variability in temperatures and conditions in mountain areas.

If off-piste or back-country skiing is your thing, the Swiss Centre for Accident Prevention advises you to take avalanche training, go out equipped with safety gear and – ideally – only head off-piste in the company of an expert local guide.

4 Swap downhill for cross country

XC skiing injuries represent just 1% of winter sports injuries and no, cross country skiing is not just for the oldies. GB Snowsport cross country athletes are enjoying unprecedented success, with Andrew Musgrave scoring a Top 10 World Cup performance in Lahti this month against an army of Norwegians.

Another advantage: cross country is cheaper than downhill skiing because you don’t need to buy a lift pass.

READ MORE: What to wear for XC skiing ; Is cross country skiing having a moment?

5 Leave sledging to the kids

‘Fun’ fact: more than two thirds of sledging injuries are suffered by adults. Stay sensible and step away from the sledge. Especially after you’ve spent an evening in Dick’s Tea Bar.

6 DON’T DRINK AND SKI / snowboard

For safety’s sake, steer clear of alcohol while you are on the slopes. Drinking impairs your judgement and balance, and increases your chances of not only injuring yourself, but also injuring others.

Be aware too, that if you are in the unfortunate situation of being involved in an accident, you are likely to be breathalysed by the piste police. This could both nullify your insurance and potentially lead to criminal charges. It is illegal to ski or snowboard under the influence of alcohol or drugs in countries including France and Italy as well as in certain US states.

Most importantly, every piste user should know and follow the FIS Rules of Conduct, the ‘Highway Code’ of the slopes. Read them on the Ski Club of GB website here.

Should we all be wearing a ski helmet?

I swapped my cosy ski cap (with fold down earflaps) for a ski helmet about four years ago for fear of being hit by another skier or boarder on the piste. These days, it’s unusual to see skiers or boarders not wearing a helmet.

That’s a huge change in slope safety mindset from just a few years ago: studies show that in some US and European resorts, 70% of us now habitually wear a ski helmet. They are not compulsory, although some resorts and ski schools do insist that infants and children wear a helmet on the piste.

In Canada, helmets are mandatory for those learning to snowboard, as well as for those teaching boarders and skiers.

Head injuries

Few parents would disagree that helmets for child skiers are essential, but should you wear one yourself?

Accidents involving high-profile skiers like Michael Schumacher and Natasha Richardson have helped convince many to swap beanies for helmets, although Schumacher was wearing a helmet when he sustained his injuries. Actress Natasha Richardson died from bleeding on the brain after she fell and hit her head while skiing (no helmet).

Benefits of wearing a helmet

As a chilly skier, I was pleased to find that a helmet is much cosier than a hat, it’s less likely to fall off (obviously), doesn’t itch and means you can keep your goggles on your helmet rather than have them taking up valuable pocket space. And as for those helmets that incorporate visors? Swoon!

Vents mean your head doesn’t overheat when you’re tackling a gnarly slope or the sun comes out, so for me my helmet is definitely a keeper.

The only question is how long can I go before buying a new one? There are some seriously desirable styles out there.

Ski helmets and injury

From the point of view of protection from injury, does wearing a helmet make a difference?

The NHS advises that the chances of sustaining serious injury when skiing are low. But if you are unlucky enough to have an accident, research published in June 2018 concludes (unsurprisingly) that wearing a helmet does help protect from head injuries. (btw, the publication Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Journal, where this research is published, has a fascinating contents page namechecking everything from wild boar to venomous snake bites via fire ants and ultraendurance nutrition.)

Scientists who have studied the effects of helmet use by skiers and snowboarders advise wearing a helmet in order to reduce the risk of a potentially serious head injury.

However, many ski helmets are not made of materials that will prevent brain injury if a so-called rotational injury occurs whereby (as explained in a very informative article in the Telegraph here), the brain rotates inside the skull following a collision.

Keep a look out for changes in helmet design and technology that offer increased protection from this kind of injury. (Good excuse for a headwear refresh!)

Find out more:

Ski Club GB advice about wearing a helmet

A factsheet from the charity Headway lists the symptoms of concussion and what to do if you suffer a blow to the head