Head To Head: Snowboard Helmet Safety Test
By Scott Yorko, Photos By Chris Wellhausen
Read all you want about the technical nuances of helmet safety, but like any piece of gear, there’s no substitute for real, hands-on testing. We had a tough time finding contributors willing to ragdoll themselves over cliff bands and smash their heads with rocks and tree branches, so we brought our helmet test into “The Dome” at BRG Sports in Santa Cruz, California. The Dome is the main research and development facility for Bell Helmets, Riddell (football helmets), and the folks at Giro, who were cool enough to let us pit their hard hats against competitors’ in an objective laboratory setting. We ran 16 snowboard helmets through the Anvil, the Penetrator, and the B-RAD to see just what kind of abuse they could take.
Disclaimer: We cranked up most of these drop heights way beyond regular helmet testing standards, mostly for fun and to find their breaking points. These results aren’t necessarily representative of real-life impact scenarios that a human skull could actually survive.
Crash Simulation: Flailing on a 6- t0 8-foot air out of the halfpipe and landing on the deck straight on your head.
To test the peak acceleration of linear impacts, we dropped four helmets strapped to a 4.7 kilogram (10.4 pound) weight onto a flat anvil from 2 meters (6.6 feet), followed by 2.5 meters (8.2 feet), and recorded the measurements in g’s with an instrument inside the anvil. The whole rig looks like a scientific guillotine that put some gnarly cracks and dings in the helmet shells. The lower the g value, the longer it takes your head to slow down, which means the impact will inflict less harsh force on your brain. Without giving them any home-turf advantage, the Giro Range stood out with the lowest g rating at both heights.
Crash Simulation: Taking out a skier and getting impaled in the head by one of their poles.
One of the most crucial features snowboarders consider when purchasing a helmet is ventilation, and many companies have gone to great lengths engineering adequate airflow into their protection systems. But vents can be a chink in your armor that sharp rocks and branches can puncture, continuing through to your skull. This happens more than you’d expect. To test the durability of these cranial screen doors, we dropped a 3 kilogram (7 pound) cone that looks like a lawn dart straight onto the vents and surfaces of four helmets secured to a dummy. Measured from two different drop heights, the dummy uses an electric wire sensor to detect contact if the Penetrator goes all the way through, which looks painful.
Crash Simulation: You’re hauling ass down a hill, messing with your selfie-stick when you catch an edge at high-velocity and slam your head into the slope.
As an acronym for Biofidelic Rotational Anthropomorphic Dummy, the B-RAD is a 105-pound pendulous dummy with a head, neck, and torso that swings from the ceiling into an inclined wall, dropping three feet with a peak acceleration of 20 to 30 g. A sensor in the dummy’s head detects linear acceleration (like the anvil test), and there’s an additional sensor to measure the “rotational rate” in degrees per second. Since most head injuries occur on a roughly 30 degree slope, rather than direct linear crash, this is the most realistic measurement of what’s happening when you bonk your brain. The lower the angular acceleration, i.e. the more time it takes for your head to slow down, the better. B-RAD is an ideal proving ground for helmets with MIPS (Multidirectional Impact Protection System) technology, which use a low-friction layer between the outer shell and liner that slides to deflect the energy of angled impacts. However, the Electric Mashman, with its retro motorcycle style and lowest pricepoint of the gang ($150), had no MIPS and still recorded the lowest g score.