Do You Need a Helmet To Snowboard? 7 Key Considerations

by Fraser

With a very small number of exceptions, wearing a snowboard helmet is optional. It’s up to you whether to wear a helmet on the slopes; it’s a personal choice.

But it’s obvious, right?

Wearing a helmet is safer than not wearing one.

Let’s say you fall and bang your head on the icy piste, or worse, maybe a rail in the snowboard park. It seems pretty straight-forward that wearing a helmet would be beneficial.

So why doesn’t every snowboarder wear one? 

Do you need a helmet to snowboard?

Let’s take a detailed look under the lid!

The Short Answer

Wearing a helmet whilst snowboarding is highly recommended, but ultimately comes down to personal choice. Modern snowboard helmets offer protection alongside features like MIPS, adjustable venting and BOA fit systems. Here are some great helmet options.

Reasons Not To Wear a Helmet

There are several reasons that snowboarders don’t wear helmets. You might consider some of them more valid than others, maybe not:

1. Comfort

Helmets don’t always fit that well. Perhaps you find wearing a beanie more comfortable, or warmer. No further justification is needed if you find a hat more pleasant that a helmet.

2. Style

Some people will be happy to admit it, others not, but the truth is, a lot of people choose not to wear a helmet because they don’t like the way it looks. Beanies look better, man!

3. Cost

Helmets are more expensive than their woolly counterparts, there’s no getting around that. Whilst you might question a snowboarder’s priorities, it’s naive to expect everyone to be able to afford a helmet. Cost is a factor (though some of the best snowboard helmets are <$100). 

4. “I’ll Be OK”

You might agree that on balance, wearing a helmet is a safer option than wearing a hat. But at the same time, you just believe that you’ll be ok; you don’t need one.

This confidence may be based on experience – you’ve been shredding for 7 years now and never had a head injury. However, it may just be wishful thinking.

5. ”They Don’t Make a Difference”.

There’s an argument that helmets don’t count once you’re going a certain speed…

But you won’t always be riding at the speed of sound. The fact is, properly fitted helmets do reduce the risk of snowboard-related head injuries by as much as 60% [source].  

6. The Risk Compensation Theory

As discussed in our guide to snowboard protective gear, some riders feel that wearing a helmet lowers your perception of risk. You may therefore be tempted to try more dangerous slopes or tricks, negating the benefits of the helmet. 

Whilst there is an element of truth to this (I’m certainly more likely to huck a backflip when kitted up), research still shows that helmets are beneficial overall. 

Are These Reasons Really Valid?

First, this article isn’t a written judgement of people who don’t wear helmets. It really is personal choice. Whatever your reasoning.

Myself, I wear a helmet if I’m riding off-piste or riding the park. If I’m predominantly charging around the piste, I may well wear a beanie: I like the change, I like the look, and judge some situations to be more risky to my head than others.

But I wouldn’t advocate this to my students or friends and family. Accidents can occur at any time!

Are Snowboard Helmets Effective?

The safety debate surrounding helmets runs fairly deep.

I’m not an expert in this area, not close to it, but I’ve read a bunch of reports ranging from the late 90’s up until 2023.

The areas that I’ve picked up as being important are:

  • Does a helmet help with low speed/low force impacts?
  • Does a helmet help with serious head injuries?
  • Can a helmet make the situation worse?
  • Should the use of helmets be enforced?
broken smith helmet - do i need a helmet to snowboard

One thing is for sure, helmet adoption is on the rise.

It’s been increasing in the region of 5% per year, and a recent NSAA study put the use of helmets by skiers and snowboarders at around 80%. That’s a lot. People obviously see the helmet as a sensible choice.

So what about the number of head injuries?

I’ve read different reports stating that they account for somewhere between 2.5% and 14% of all ski and snowboard injuries. There’s a lot of variation there, but the upper limit is pretty high!

1. Minor Head Injuries

When it comes to safety benefits, it seems that the helmet is most useful in preventing less serious injuries. Concussions, cuts and scrapes; injuries occurring at speeds of 15mph or less.

This would seem to reinforce the speed-argument – if you’re travelling fast enough they no longer make a difference.

Whilst it’s true that most snowboarders travel faster than 15 mph, say, 20mph+, I’m not sure how that relates to a fall in the park? What if you catch your edge on a rail, or fall spinning a 360 off a kicker? Does a helmet still help then?

The answer is a definitive yes. Most studies have demonstrated between a 35 and 59% reduction in head injuries when wearing a helmet. 

do you need a helmet to snowboard?

2. Major Head Injuries

For more serious injuries, skull fractures, concussions greater than Grade II, and fatalities, the reports suggest that helmets are less useful.

Given that fatalities on the hill often involve multiple injuries, research shows that the uptake in helmet use hasn’t caused a reduction in the number of deaths.

As for the enforcement of helmet use by all snow sport users, so far, there isn’t enough evidence to make it mandatory… yet.

should you wear a helmet to snowboard

Can Helmets Make The Situation Worse?

Well, there’s an argument that the use of a helmet can increase the chance of a neck injury. But again, there isn’t enough evidence to support this claim.

So, whilst a helmet may not be effective at high speeds, and may not play a role in reducing fatalities on the mountain, if it doesn’t make your situation worse, is it fair to conclude that your overall safety on the hill is still increased?

I’d say “yes”.

Style over Safety?

Style. Fashion. They’re a big element of the snowboarding scene. Not for everyone, but they’re there. As a broad statement, many people prefer the look of a beanie.

And how about the pro scene? In the past, you didn’t see pro snowboarders wearing helmets. You didn’t see many regular snowboarders wearing helmets, but pros? Pretty much never!

But that has changed, to some degree. Sure, the video parts from this, and recent seasons aren’t filled with helmet-clad pros, but you do see them.

snowboard pro beanie instead of helmet

And competition riders wear them too. Just look at the likes of Shaun White and Mark McMorris. You don’t get much bigger than that and they both wear lids.

Manufacturers, magazines and media have changed too. There are adverts for helmets. They’re portrayed as being part of the style. A safety element made to look cool. Manufacturers have big ranges of lids, lots to choose from, audio options, liners, peaks.

Did they jump on the band wagon as helmet adoption started to increase, or was it a shift in the marketing that lead to increased adoption?

Consider the Example of Indoor Snowdomes

Indoor snow slopes are one of the few places where the use of a helmet is enforced (for freestyle sessions).

This has led to a culture in which wearing a helmet is second nature. Everyone does it. They have to. No big deal. It’s normal.

So how does that feel? It bears little consequence on our use of the indoor fridges. It certainly isn’t a constant niggle that riders are complaining about. We just get on with the jibbing.

indoor snowboarding - wearing a helmet

Unfortunately I haven’t found any figures in this area. Are the indoor parks safer than those in resort, where helmets are optional? Unknown. Are indoor riders more likely to wear a helmet on the mountain? Probably. Does that make them safer? Unknown.

Is this an indication that enforcing snowboarders to wear a helmet on a wider scale is a good idea? I don’t think so. Just because a rule is tolerated, lived with, and has faded into the background, it doesn’t mean the rule is a good one. As above, there isn’t enough evidence here yet.

The Secondary Benefits of Wearing a Helmet

Putting the safety benefits to one side, there are other positive effects associated with wearing a helmet. Consider:

1. Protection For Your Goggles

Wearing a helmet is good for your goggles too. First of all, a fall on your face is less likely to damage your goggles and therefore, perhaps, your eyes or nose.

What’s more, when a snowboarder falls it’s quite common for their goggles to come off. Again, there’s the potential to damage or lose them. A helmet helps to keep your goggles on, tucked safely under the rim.

2. Securing Good Visibility

I can’t emphasise this point enough. When the inside of your goggles come into contact with the snow, bad things happen. You’ll struggle to see clearly all day! 

With a hat, snow can gather on the top of goggles, or bind to the woolly material around your forehead. This can result in blocked goggle vents. 

The helmet and goggle combination works keeps your goggles clean, unobstructed, and your visibility clear.

3. Music

If you like snowboarding with music playing, a helmet can be a good option. One of the benefits of a built-in audio feature is the ability to quickly lower the volume. Often the control is easy enough to operate with your gloves still on – handy for talking to your friends when you stop.

These are best ways to listen to music while snowboarding

4. Warmth

Helmets are awesome for keeping your head warm and dry! 

If you’re getting a helmet, you probably think it’s the safer option. That doesn’t mean you want to look like a dork! If you can’t find the style you want in a shop, sometimes you’ve got to go online…

The best places to buy snowboard gear are Evo and Backcountry. 

Look for helmets with the following features:

  • MIPS
  • Adjustable venting 
  • The appropriate snow sports certification 
  • Fit adjustment suit

Think about your goggles too – if possible, check the fit. Although you’re unlikely to find a completely incompatible helmet and goggle match, there’s no denying that some pairings work better than others.

Some Excellent Helmet Choices!

Top Pick
Smith Vantage MIPS

Smith Vantage MIPS

  • Weight: 500g
  • Construction: Hybrid In-Mold
  • Vents: 21 (Adjustable)
  • MIPS: Yes
  • Price: $270
Budget Pick
Smith Holt

Smith Holt

  • Weight: 550g
  • Construction: ABS
  • Vents: 14 (fixed)
    MIPS: No
  • Price: $80
Freestyle Pick
Giro Emerge Spherical MIPS

Giro Emerge Spherical MIPS

  • Weight: 500g
  • Construction: ABS
  • Vents: 10 (Fixed)
  • MIPS: Yes (Spherical)
  • Price: $159
We may make a small commission if you make a purchase, at no cost to you.

Final Word

At the end of the day, snowboarding can be an injury-prone sport.

People fall, people slam; sometimes you get straight back up, other times it hurts a little. It’s difficult to deny that.

Given that the head comes under fire during falls – it stands to reason that a helmet makes sense from a safety point of view. It’s difficult to argue with that, too. In some situations, helmets make sense.

Are helmets a catch-all? No. Nonetheless, there are definitely situations in which a helmet helps. If I fall on a rail or box, I want my lid on. If I hit a rock, I want my lid on.

It’s your call. So share it. What do you think? Do you need a helmet to snowboard? Should helmets be mandatory, or is that stepping over an individual’s right to choose for themselves?

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