While the primary function of a helmet is to protect your skull, the benefits of wearing one go beyond its primary use. Nowadays, it also needs to be stylish, keep you warm (but not too warm) and interface with your electronics. The Giro Omen with TuneUps Wireless scored big in all categories, and one tester declared that it was the best helmet system he's ever tested.
When it comes to protection, it's difficult for testers outside of a lab to give much feedback (come now, we're not going to charge head first into a tree). What we do know is that the helmet uses what Giro calls In-Mold construction to fuse a foam liner to a polycarbonate outer shell. The helmet is rated with American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) F2040 and Consumer Products Safety Commission compliance, which is a higher standard than the European CEN 1077 rating, though not as high as a Snell certification. The translation is that the helmet provides solid protection, but you should use common sense -- like not intentionally running into trees.
Another aspect of helmet safety is the fit. We couldn't have been more impressed by the Omen's In Form fit system, which uses a dial much like Giro's bike helmets. Simply turn the dial to tighten the inner cradle of the helmet up to 6 cm. We had no problem adjusting the fit with and without gloves. The adjustable fit and lightweight of the helmet made it comfortable for athletic skiing in bumps or in the trees -- there was no wobbling.
If you've worn a helmet without adjustable vents, you know the agony of cold wind blasting onto your head while riding slow lifts. The Omen's 14 vents can be opened and closed with two levers (for front and back) that were easy to manipulate while wearing gloves -- ideal for shutting out those icy blasts when desired. While skiing hard, we opened them halfway to stop from sweating up before we sat on the lift. And on warm days, when we would have preferred to not wear a helmet, the Omen vented as well as a good road bike helmet.
Yet, the biggest change we noticed with the Omen as compared to old, trusted headgear was the user-friendly electronics interface. For our test, we first skied with an iPod and the helmet, but did not use the TuneUps Wireless system. It's nice to have music on long, solo lift rides at a place like Eldora where it can take nearly 15 frigid minutes to reach the top. What is not so great is having your music blasting when the lift op is talking to you and then having to take your gloves off and fumble through your jacket to turn the music off. Likewise, when someone did try to talk to us on the lift, we had to go through the process to turn down the volume. Plus, we were concerned that the iPod might fall out of an opened pocket.
What a difference it was to wear the TuneUps, which were developed in conjunction with Motorola and attach in the ear pads or can be connected to a separate headset for use without the helmet. The sound was slightly better than with our standard iPod headphones, and we didn't have to worry about them falling out of our ears. But it was the control ability that most impressed us. Once we attached the Bluetooth device to the iPod, and then slipped it into a safe, sealed pocket, we could select songs and adjust the volume from the ear piece. The controls did not even require us to remove a glove, which allowed us to listen to music even when skiing with friends -- and tune them out or in at will.
While we did not particularly like skiing and snowboarding with music before, the system made us actually enjoy bringing our iPod to the hill. Plus, we hooked it up to our cell phone and found the same ease of use for an electronic device that usually is a pain to operate while riding lifts. Of course, if you ever see us using our cell phone for anything but a real need, like to call a bud after a great run just to announce, "Dude, that black diamond was awesome…you should have seen blah blah blah…" you have permission to smack the helmet off our head and stomp the cell phone into a thousand pieces.
Yet another benefit was the way the helmet worked with a set of Giro goggles. (We used the interchangeable Manifest for this test.) Few fashion faux pas are worse on a ski hill than the dreaded "gaper gap" when the top of the goggle does not hug the brim of the helmet. That did not happen here. We did get a bit of gap, though, when we pared the Omen with a set of Uvex goggles. Also, the goggle clip kept our eyewear secure and we didn't have to worry about it snapping open accidentally.
Quite simply, this helmet system made a day on the mountain more enjoyable.
SNEWS Rating: 5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $369; $200 without TuneUps
For more information: www.giro.com