From a virtual non-category a decade ago, ski helmets have emerged as a standard accessory for many resort skiers and snowboarders. Although the protection may not be as great as most believe (see the 2005 GearTrendsÂ® Winter Outdoor magazine -- free download at www.geartrends.com -- for a report on current helmet testing standards), there is no doubt that helmets are now comfortable, stylish and here to stay.
Giro Fuse -- Of all the ski helmets now on the market, the Giro Fuse ($149) sets the standard for ventilation and comfort for others to chase. Although it's a tad heavier and more expensive than Giro's popular Nine.9, the Fuse features much larger vents for better airflow on hot days.
What really sets the Fuse apart, and helps justify the extra $40, is the ability to close off the six top vents simply by sliding a handle on the rear. To adjust airflow on the Nine.9 requires taking off the helmet and removing foam plugs; far less practical and easy to lose. For spring skiing, the Fuse also has removable foam plugs on six side vents and the earflaps can be removed. With all the vent options wide open, the Fuse is easily the coolest ski helmet available -- and we're not just talking "cool" as in ventilation.
The other major reason for the popularity of the Giro helmets is its optional TuneUps ear flaps with built-in speakers ($29). Connected to an Apple iPod or a CD player, the wearer can listen to music while skiing and riding lifts. A mute button allows normal conversations since the earflaps barely reduce external sounds. The more expensive TuneUps II ($59) allows plugging in a cell phone too but the logistics of carrying all the electronics connected by wires is troublesome. The TuneUps is a neat feature, but can be uncomfortable to wear due to pressure on the ears.
Since the Fuse only weighs 15 ounces (size large), it is among the lightest helmets around and just 12 ounces heavier than a hat. The Fuse meets ASTM requirements for ski helmets and CEN requirements for bike helmets. Though they legally can't be sold as bike helmets in the United States without CPSC certification (very similar tests), the Fuse is in fact a great cold-weather helmet for cyclists. As good as its ventilation is though, it doesn't approach dedicated bike helmets, so you wouldn't want to wear it in the summer.
Overall, the Fuse is probably the most versatile and comfortable helmet we've tested to date. Our only real concern focuses on the large vent openings -- a positive for airflow on hot days no doubt. Those same large openings could snag a branch or protrusion during a fall and as a result slightly increase the chance of rotational brain injuries.
SNEWSÂ® Applause Meter: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $149; with TuneUps $178
For more information:www.giro.com