Can You Use a Bike Helmet For Skiing? (Safety Comparison)

by Megan Coles | Updated On: July 29th, 2022
helmet for skiing

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Protective equipment is essential for outdoor sports like cycling and skiing, when your contending with ice & rocks, so you might be wondering if the kit is interchangeable?

The short answer is no. Bike helmets are purpose-built for cycling, not for skiing. They won’t offer a snug fit, will result in very cold ears, and won’t protect you against ski-based injuries. 

If you’re fortunate enough to be a regular skier, you’ll probably have your own helmet. However, if your ski trips are few and far between, you might be tempted to cut costs by using the bike helmet you’ve got lying around your garage or ditching the helmet altogether. I’d highly recommend against doing so. With plenty of budget options on the market and great in-resort rentals, you shouldn’t have to stretch the bank.

Bike Helmet vs Ski Helmet

Do I Need To Wear A Helmet?

Skiing can be dangerous and involves risk, but don’t let this put you off; for the recreational skier, there is low risk. A study in Norway has reported an injury rate of around 1.5 per 1000 days, making it no more dangerous than football or cycling. It should be noted, however, that 1 in 6 of all injuries was to the head. This is why using the correct protective equipment is essential

The most frequent cause of head injuries on the mountain is falling, the second most frequent being collisions with objects such as trees. According to a post-doctoral researcher in sport-related concussion, Jessie Oldham, sustaining traumatic brain injuries and skull fractures on mild to moderate slopes are higher than most people realize. 

Skier fall

Wearing a helmet while skiing will reduce the severity of the injury that could’ve been sustained during a fall or collision. Sugarloaf ski patroller Roddy Ehrlenbach explains that he’s seen helmets bring a reduced rate of headwound, lacerations, and skull fractures. 

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Why Not Use a Bike Helmet?

Unsurprisingly, bike helmets are designed for cycling, not skiing. Aside from the practical reasons against bike helmet use on the slopes, such as not being compatible with ski goggles and their general lack of warmth, they are an unsafe option.

bike helmet

On the whole, bike helmets do not offer a secure fit and will move around your head more. Upon impact, this could make a significant difference to injuries sustained. Their lighter weight and visored front will also mean it is less secure in the event of a crash. 

The Correct Fit

So how do I know if my helmet fits me correctly? Here are a few things you can look out for when renting or buying a ski helmet:

How It Fits Your Head

A helmet should feel snug on your head but shouldn’t be restrictively tight. If the helmet shifts around when shaking your head, you should try a different size or make. 

Most helmets will feature an adjustment dial at the back of the head, adjusting this will ensure the safest fit for you. Take notice of your head shape and how it fills the helmet. Empty space and high-pressure points should be recognized as this can make use quite uncomfortable after a while.  

Chin Strap

All helmets will include an adjustable chin strap; keeping this at its most comfortably tight setting for maximum safety is essential. 

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Get to know what your favorite type of chin strap is. This may seem very specific, but if you’re a regular skier, you’ll have a preferred chin strap, whether this is a magnet, ratchet, or buckle.

Breathability

Take note of where and when you ski the most; if your most frequented resort is warmer or you’re more of a spring skier, it may be a good idea to look for ventilated helmets. 

Alternatively, if you’re a cold-weather skier, you will want to be looking at helmets with insulated earpads. This will make all the difference on a cold degree day. 

Helmet Weight

For children or lighter adults, you might want to consider the helmet’s weight. There are several options that will reduce the stress put on younger or weaker necks. 

Additional Safety Features 

ski helmet with snow

Your helmet should meet the safety certification in your country. There will be a sticker in or on the helmet with the code ASTM F2040 for the U.S. and CE EN 1077 in Europe. These codes indicate that it’s been tested to safety standards in shock absorption and durability. A bike helmet will not meet these safety standards. 

Look out for products that contain Mips. Multi-directional impact protection system (Mips) is a technology that allows for multi-directional helmet movement upon impact to help reduce the rotational force on the head. Mips is not necessarily a new technology, but it’s made its mark in the ski industry in recent years. 

While helmets with the Mips safety feature tend to be more expensive ($250+), there are some more reasonably priced options on the market. The Smith Scout is a great budget helmet ($85) and also happens to be my chosen helmet.

Has Helmet Use Increased?

When you look at skiers these days, it seems a far cry from what you would see just 20 years ago. Seeing anyone but young children sporting a helmet on the mountain was a rarity. But why could this be?

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Not only is there an increased knowledge of the risk involved, but several high-profile ski deaths, such as Natasha Richardson, who fatally fell on a beginner’s slope in 2009, caught media attention. Tragedies like this may have contributed to an awareness of helmet importance and increased usage.  

kids helmet

There are few laws concerning wearing helmets, however, things are moving in the right direction. In 2011, the US state of New Jersey made it compulsory for children to wear helmets, with a similar law also passed in Italy. Additionally, Vail Resorts have made it mandatory for their employees to wear a helmet.  

When Should I Change My Helmet?

There are a few reasons why it may be time to switch out your ski helmet. One of the more obvious reasons would be after a crash that involves an impact on the head. A helmet’s effectiveness will lessen after a hard hit, and if there’s any crack in the outer or inner shell, it becomes useless and needs to be replaced.

Any helmet should be replaced after a significant impact on the head. Retailers and skiers often misunderstand Mips in their ability to provide multi-impact protection, which is not the case.

Keep up to date with current safety regulations, if you’ve had your helmet for many years it may now be outdated. In the ski world, we’re constantly learning new information that gives us a better understanding of how best to protect ourselves.

A good rule of thumb is to replace a helmet once every three years if you’re skiing a few weeks a winter and adjust this amount depending on your skiing frequency. 

skiing red jacket
Photo by Robert Tadlock licensed under CC BY 2.0

Conclusion 

Don’t reach for your bike helmet when hitting the slopes; instead, opt for a suitable fitting ski helmet. If you’re new to skiing or an infrequent skier, check out your local ski hills rental service; it shouldn’t be more than $10 to take a good quality helmet out for the day. Don’t be afraid to change helmet size or brand if it’s not giving you the correct snug fit. 

For more regular skiers, it’s a good idea to invest in a helmet, making sure to tick the boxes to ensure a secure fit where you shouldn’t have to compromise on comfort.  Keep yourself in the loop and educated about ski gear; it may just save you from serious injury one day.

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