Number Cruncher | Helmet use at all-time high

More skiers and boarders than ever before are thinking of helmets as an integral part of their gear, and helmet manufacturers are taking the chance to diversify – with more comfort, more style, and more tech.
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Graphic by Corey Buhay

Graphic by Corey Buhay

Ten years ago, anyone with a plastic hat glimmering in the sunlight faced sneers from lidless skiers. Today, it’s the opposite. About 78 percent of resort skiers and snowboarders wear helmets, according to recent data by the National Ski Areas Association. A good thing, too—the NSAA reports that helmets can reduce head injuries by up to 50 percent.

Earl Saline, the NSAA’s director of educational programming, said helmets have become so accepted that today it’s helmetless riders who stand out.

Saline points to safety initiatives like NSAA’s Lids on Kids campaign and ski areas’ promotional events like helmet giveaways. Mandatory helmet regulations have also helped, particularly those requiring helmets at children’s ski and snowboard lessons.

Mandatory helmet regulation in resort ski schools are getting kids acclimated to helmets early in life – making them more likely to keep the protective headgear as part of their kit as they grow older. Photo by originallittlehellraiser on Flickr.

Mandatory helmet regulation in resort ski schools are getting kids acclimated to helmets early in life – making them more likely to keep the protective headgear as part of their kit as they grow older. Photo by originallittlehellraiser on Flickr.

“Kids are growing up learning to ski and ride with helmets, and they’re carrying that on through their teen and adult years,” Saline said.

NSAA’s 2015 helmet usage report suggests another factor: “tremendous improvements by helmet manufacturers to enhance design and comfort.” The lowest helmet usage rates occur among groups aged 18 to 24; safety education has less of an affect on young adults, said Dave Byrd, NSAA’s director of risk and regulatory affairs.

“That age group sees themselves as invincible,��� he said. Flashier gear might be key to catching the eye of a young and unconvinced demographic. Byrd touted leading helmet manufacturer Smith Optics and Swedish company POC for their progress in style and tech integration.

A lightweight polymer honeycomb in Smith’s Vantage helmet directs airflow and maximizes protection, and a Boa fit system allows 360-degree adjustment to customize fit and reduce hot spots. Like many of Smith’s other styles, the Vantage comes in a spectrum of colors.

POC wired Beats headphones into their new Receptor Bug and Fornix helmets, wedding a brand popular on the streets to one popular on the slopes to widen appeal.

POC’s sleek, minimalistic helmets cater to a younger audience. Photo by chriscom on Flickr

POC’s sleek, minimalistic helmets cater to a younger audience. Photo by chriscom on Flickr

POC isn’t the only company to add an audio dimension. UCLEAR’s Bluetooth-enabled HBC120 Plus acts as an in-helmet walkie-talkie to allow clear communication between buddies even while shredding in high winds.

With these changes, young adults are beginning to see the light—70 percent wear helmets now, up from 18 percent in the 2002-2003 season. “I think [the new technology] makes it more likely that young people are going to embrace helmets,” said Byrd.

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