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By providing both comfort and protection to the head, ski helmets can encourage athletes to push harder and jump higher in the knowledge that cutting edge innovations are keeping them safe. This makes the helmet one of the most important items in the athlete's attire, so how exactly do manufacturers go about providing the highest level of security for professionals and amateurs alike?
First the ski helmet is 3D modelled using computer software, with physical mock ups created for practicalities effect. After the initial design is approved it moves forward into mass production. This process begins with silk screening custom designs onto polyurethane as decals to attach to the helmet shell. The silk screen can pass only a single colour at any time, with each component layer being applied individually and overseen by specialists.
In order for a ski helmet design to pass through the prototype stage, crash test scenarios are run through digitally to ascertain whether the helmet design is geometrically powerful enough to protect athletes during a run. These must pass localized safety standards as there is no universal standard in place as of this moment; the CEN 1077 in Europe and the F2040 in North America. Then a prototype is created and cooled to -25ºC before practical crash tests take place to ensure the quality of the product. After meeting required standards professional athletes test-run and provide feedback on the gear, which is then passed back to the designers to modify before finalising.
The main form of rigid protection for the helmet comes from the shell. This is made from Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS high-impact plastic) which is used in the helmets of many sports, however the moulded design differs from the likes of BMX or skateboarding. For snowsports there are some obvious differences in the conditions which can be negated by simple modifications in the design phase, namely ear coverage, moisture-wicking lines and the use of temperature sensitive materials (for the inner lining).
As for using ABS, it is designed to provide protection from knocks and abrasions while spreading the impact energy after a nasty fall. Though you can also have In-Mould Helmets which combine the inner lining and the shell into a single moulding process and offers a lighter and cheaper alternative, we're looking at the Injection Moulded Helmets which utilize a hydraulic press to warp the plastic into the CAD design. The helmets then pass through a series of manual work, like trimming excess material, drilling ventilation and application of the promotional cosmetic design.
The inner lining brings the comfort by it's softer lining than the shell's hard plastic, while also being able to compress and thus absorb part of the shock trauma from a fall to the head. The lining is made first from expanded polystyrene which a fabric layer woven over. The fabric lining can be adjusted or removed to better suit the user's needs.
The lining is actually designed to change shape on impact, signifying that it's protective capabilities have been compromised and thus needs replacing. You may not be immediately aware, but after a big fall onto the helmet it must be destroyed and replaced.
The assembly of this part comes after the shell has the polyurethane decals applied and given a final coating, making sure to remove any bubbling of the plastics. After the shell has the final design applied the components are then passed through an assembly line where the inner lining is fixed to the shell via bonding. Finally the helmet is finished and ready for packaging.
Only 10 years ago the use of a helmet in skiing and snowboarding was almost non-existent, though with sustained findings it has developed the snow culture into embracing the protective gear. In the US it is reported that the death rate is around 1 per million skiers, with more than half to head related trauma. While in Europe injuries per 1000 average at 3.5 incidents. Skiers and snowboarders can hit speeds in excess of 30mph, which even a helmet wouldn't protect from, but any head impacts at 20-25mph with a ski helmet on could easily be the difference between a minor and a life-threatening injury.
If you have enjoyed this article on How It's Made, you can find other promotional equipment we've covered here.