Raising kids in the mountains means that skiing is part of their life from a young age. My twins started when they were four years old, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was the mama bear who skied with her poles outstretched to create a human shield around my tiny tots snowplowing in front of me. I was worried that another skier or snowboarder could clobber my kids at any second. And even though they’re teenagers now, I still have the innate need to protect them and keep them safe. Just last year my son came home with his ski pole bent at a 90-degree angle – something about an altercation with a tree that I have since tried to block out of my memory.
Regardless of age, kids will be kids which brings me to the purpose of this blog. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about when it came to MIPS helmet technology. Read on for my assessment and why I’m considering buying a MIPS helmet not only for my son who skis 30 days a year, but also for my dancer daughter who eeks out a mere two ski days/year.
What is MIPS?
MIPS was developed in 1997 by two scientists from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. One was a neurosurgeon, who determined that existing helmet technology did not adequately protect against brain injuries. The other was a biomechanical researcher who showed it was possible to reduce rotational acceleration, in the event of an impact, by up to 39% with a better helmet design. In short, these guys knew what they were doing.
After 19 years of testing, MIPS is now being applied to both bike and ski helmets, albeit at a higher price point. Having edited descriptions for all of the MIPS helmets that we sell on jans.com, I knew that the fancy acronym stood for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, but I couldn’t for the life of me begin to explain what that meant. Hence another reason for this blog.
Through my research, I learned that when you fall while skiing, your head usually hits the ground at an angle. This creates a rotational force that can put strain on your brain. While head-on collisions do happen, they are actually pretty rare, meaning most head traumas are the result of angled impact.
In a helmet with MIPS, the shell and liner are separated by a low-friction layer that allows the helmet to slide, and not remain stationery, relative to your head on impact. This special layer is intended to reduce the amount of energy transferred to the head and potentially reduce the chance of a brain injury.
How Does it Work?
If you’re like me and not particularly into physics, all this talk of rotational forces and impact sounds a bit like scientific mumbo jumbo, so let me break it down for you. In the event of a fall, your head rotates when it hits the ground at an angle. This rotational acceleration can cause the tiny connections between your brain tissue and skull to tear. Ouch! Which increases the chance of a concussion, and let’s be honest; that’s exactly what we’re all trying to avoid by wearing a ski helmet in the first place.
The MIPS low-friction layer sandwiched between the helmet shell and liner allows the helmet to absorb the rotational impact, instead of your head or most importantly, your brain. Think of MIPS as an added layer of protection that keeps your brain tissue safer. Some even describe it as a slip plane or a thin layer of plastic that allows the helmet liner to rotate around your head, thereby protecting it.
Why Should You Care?
Concussions that’s why. As concussions have become more prevalent in recent years in various sports, studies have shown that they have been linked to early dementia. Which is why you, as an adult, should care. But what about your kids?
With advancements in ski and snowboard technology, people are skiing faster than ever. For those of us who remember the skinny skis of days gone by, shaped skis have transformed not only our quality of skiing, but also our speed. And while it’s fun to go fast, the reality is that some of the people tearing up the mountain simply can’t control their speed or direction. Which means at some point you, and your kids, are likely to have to avoid the out-of-control skier or boarder and might take a fall in the process.
The other reality is that unless you’re cruising groomers all day, you’ll eventually tackle some terrain that will challenge you. Kids are notorious for this, because, to be frank, it’s a whole lot of fun. Yet with challenging terrain comes the greater likelihood of catching an edge and taking a fall. And this is where MIPS comes in.
Research has shown that rotational accelerations from angled impact are very likely to cause concussions. So if you play out the logic that MIPS disperses energy from rotational accelerations, then in theory the technology should help reduce both you and your kids chance of getting a concussion while skiing.
Do You Really Need it?
Does skiing in a helmet with MIPS technology guarantee that you won’t get a concussion if you crash? Of course not. But it certainly helps reduce the likelihood, which to me makes it worth the higher price point; especially when I think about how my kids and their buddies ski. Remember the 90-degree Leki pole I mentioned earlier?
In the end it’s an individual decision if spending the extra $50 or $100 for a MIPS helmet makes sense. A MIPS helmet is better than a regular ski helmet and a regular ski helmet is better than no helmet at all. But in the case of our kids, don’t we want the best protection that money can buy?
Liz Yokubison, Editor, jans.com and whitepinetouring.com