Whether to wear a helmet or not is a very old debate in the snowboarding community. In the past, snowboarders wearing a helmet were often frowned upon and regarded as uncool.
Aside from the looks, it feels like common sense to wear a helmet to protect yourself against serious head and neck injuries. The risk of a head injury in snowboarding is far too great to ignore, and the protection offered by the helmet can save you from a lot of pain in case of an accident.
However, some snowboarders still choose not to wear a helmet for various reasons, including restricted vision, hearing, or movement. Some even argue that wearing a helmet can increase your risk of injury.
See also: Should you wear back protection for snowboarding?
The risks of snowboarding without a helmet
According to the National Ski Areas Association, not wearing a helmet increases the risk of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) by five times. Helmets help reduce the severity of head injuries by absorbing energy and protecting your skull from impact.
At the minimum, direct injuries include facial trauma, skull or neck fracture, and other physical harm caused by the impact of a snowboarding accident.
Brain concussion and brain damage can also result from the brain banging against your skull as your head comes to a sudden stop at high speed.
So now that we know what we’re up against, let’s go over the most common arguments in favor of and against wearing a helmet when snowboarding.
#1 pro: A helmet can save your head when you crash
There are many ways to crash and fall on your head when snowboarding. It’s quite common for snowboarders to catch an edge while riding down an ungroomed run, sliding down on their belly or back head first, and being stopped by a tree. Wearing a helmet in such situations can save your head.
Other common accidents include falling backward on your head e.g. after getting off a lift on icy snow. You might also hit an ice patch under the powder and slam your head on the ice with your head bouncing several times. Here again, a helmet can really save your day (or life).
Accidents also commonly result from bad landings, with the rider’s head hitting the hard snow. While the rider may end up with a concussion, a cracked vertebrae, or spinal fluid running through his/her nose, a helmet will typically reduce the damage.
#2 pro: Helmets are comfortable and convenient
Helmets keep your head warm. Many snowboarders find helmets more comfortable than a beanie because they don’t scratch nearly as much.
Modern helmets are very light, keep you warm on cold days, and have adjustable vents to cool you down in warm weather.
Also, a helmet keeps your goggles in place, and helps keep the goggle band from pinching your hair. Newer helmets are designed to integrate with goggles, beanies, and hoods.
A helmet is also great for mounting a Go Pro. Some helmets come with a wire cable compartment for your headphones. Many helmets have built-in audio systems so you can use ear pods that aren’t in-ear.
Putting on and taking off a helmet only takes a few seconds, much faster than tightening your boots and strapping in.
#3 pro: A helmet protects you from other snowboarders
Even if you are confident in your own skills, some other riders on the slopes may not be as experienced, and may not see you in time when riding too fast.
As a result, some snowboarders choose to wear a helmet primarily to prevent injuries caused by another rider losing control and crashing into them, blindsiding them and hitting them without warning.
#4 pro: A helmet is a must for park riding
If you start jibbing on boxes and rails or attempting freestyle jumps in the park, wearing a helmet at all times is a requirement. When riding park, riders often wear knee pads and elbow pads for extra protection as well.
See also: getting over the fear of terrain park
#5 pro: Many snowboarding locations require helmets
Many ski resorts now require you to wear a helmet for admission, some will even provide helmets for rent. This safety measure helps protect both the riders and the resort from liability in case of an accident.
Snow parks also generally require you to wear a helmet as part of their safety regulations. Always check a snow park’s safety rules before attempting to ride there.
#6 pro: Modern helmets look cool
Nowadays, snowboarding helmets look pretty snazzy. There are plenty of colors and designs to choose from, so you can easily find a helmet that fits your style and preferences. Pro-Tec offers a good selection of reliable and stylish looking snowboard helmets.
Now, let’s look at some common arguments riders have against the use of a helmet in snowboarding.
#1 con: Helmets impair your vision and hearing
Some snowboarders feel that helmets limit the field of view and muffle sounds, making it harder to see obstacles in time and to decipher incoming sounds from other skiers.
However, a 2022 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health shows that wearing a helmet does not influence the ability to perceive visual stimuli and does not actually narrow the rider’s visual field.
Regardless, some snowboarders find helmets to be bulky, and uncomfortable, and overheat the head during prolonged use, resulting in an overall decrease in enjoyment.
#2 con: A helmet restricts your movements when snowboarding
Some riders feel constrained in moving their head when wearing a helmet. There are many snowboard helmet designs, with various amounts of coverage. More coverage is safer but means added weight.
On the other hand, a little less coverage at the back of the neck gives you more freedom of movement.
#3 con: Helmets make you look uncool
In the past, helmets often made snowboarders look like “bucket heads”. Nowadays, most snowboarding helmets look great.
Regardless, snowboarders have a long history of rebellious behavior against establishment. Many snowboarders are young and reckless riders who adhere to the image of the rebel, fearless rider with superman-like abilities. For them, wearing a helmet is a sign of weakness and “uncoolness”.
#4 con: A helmet isn’t a necessity if you know what you’re doing
Some riders grew up snowboarding a few decades ago when snowboarders never wore helmets (see preceding section). These riders are often very comfortable on snow, they don’t ride park, mostly powder, and don’t fall much.
These snowboarders are confident in their ability to ride safely and feel they’ve never needed a helmet and still don’t.
#5 con: A helmet gives you a false sense of security
Some snowboarders believe wearing a helmet gives you a false sense of security and encourages you to take more risks than you would without one, actually leading to more injuries.
However, a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery concluded that helmets decrease the risk and severity of head injuries in snowboarding and do not seem to increase the risk of neck injury, cervical spine injury, or risk compensation behavior.
#6 con: A helmet doesn’t prevent concussion
Snowboard helmets mainly protect the rider against direct head injuries such as lacerations, bruises, and skull fractures. However, helmets are not designed to prevent concussions. A concussion is generally caused by a sudden force to the head and can occur even when wearing a helmet.
While helmets will help spread out the force of an impact across the inner shell like a hard knee pad does, when your head hits an obstacle this doesn’t change the deceleration that results in a concussion.
A helmet can’t prevent the brain from rotating and moving around within the skull and hitting the inner wall.
#7 con: A helmet can actually increase the risk of injury
According to some snowboarders, wearing a helmet not only fails to protect them from a head injury but could actually increase the risk of neck and cervical spine injuries due to increased torque and whiplash in falls.
The research mentioned earlier, however, refutes such claims and shows snowboarding helmets do not increase the risk of injury or “risk compensation behavior”.
Do pro snowboarders wear helmets?
Most pro riders nowadays wear helmets during freestyle competitions – halfpipe, big air, slopestyle – or boardercross races. In competitions and professional events, helmets are nearly always required.
Another good reason is that sponsors would not want to associate their image with a major injury that results from the lack of a helmet. The risk of major injury from riding is much higher when it comes to high-level freestyle or boardercross racing, as the speeds and obstacles are bigger.
Older snowboard movies often feature snowboarders without helmets. This is again due to the “cool” factor, as well as the fact that older helmets reduced the rider’s range of vision and ability to turn their head quickly.
Choosing a good helmet for snowboarding
A snowboarding helmet should have a certification from either ASTM or the EU to meet the safety standards for snowboarding.
To ensure your head is adequately protected while snowboarding, it’s essential to choose a helmet that covers both the front and back of your head. This is because falls can happen in either direction, backward or forward, so you need equal protection from all angles.
Your helmet should fit snugly yet comfortably on your head. Always ensure you try it on before buying and check the size chart. A rule of thumb to ensure the best fit is that your protective helmet should enable you to sport full-size goggles comfortably and securely, with no visible forehead.
Snowboard helmets with MIPS technology offer maximum protection for your head. This layer provides an extra cushion between the EPS and inner helmet liner to reduce rotational impact forces, protecting you from serious injury or trauma in case of a fall.
When choosing a helmet, also look for extra features like adjustable ventilation, removable earpads, and multiple shell sizes. Also, check if the helmet has a removable liner so that you can easily take it out when washing or drying the helmet.
Note that skateboard helmets, while they offer some protection from falls, won’t provide the same level of safety as snowboard helmets. Some skateboard helmets may have a snowboarding certification, but not all. Skateboard helmets also tend to be bulkier and less comfortable than snowboard helmets.
Though helmets may not offer maximum protection, they still provide a greater degree of safety than going without. If you are taking part in any extreme activities such as tree runs, park riding, or cliff drops, then it is essential to wear one for your well-being and peace of mind. Choosing to don a helmet can be the difference between life and death.