Who can afford being vain at 150Ks down an icy slope?

POC's firm mission since we started in 2005 has been to do the best we can to possibly save lives and reduce the consequences of accidents for gravity sports athletes. One topic of discussion throughout that time has been the challenge of vanity vs. helmet sizes.

"Once in a while I'm asked the question - How do you make the safest helmet there is?

The answer´s easy - just make it incredibly big, with decimeters of shock-absorbing material. The downside is that they would be hard to sell and seriously limit movement" Says: Stefan Ytterborn Founder and CEO.

We constantly try to come up with new concepts to increase protection and safety, whether it´s a matter of material, construction, design or other practical issues. With a large group of POC users taking big risks, challenging steep and icy slopes to gain perhaps a hundredth of a second, we have been looking into ways to improve the performance of helmets. These improvements include its capacity to better absorb energy at far greater speeds than what they are tested and certified for.

When we started looking at this specific case 18 months ago, we were humbled to realize that there are numerous improvements that can be made to a helmet, and that these improvements need to be made alongside other aspects, such as ensuring the athletes´ physical stamina, the length, steepness and quality of the race line, the netting, equipment improvements, etc, etc. We are very aware that launching the new POC DH and SG helmet is only a small step among numerous improvements that will need to follow within the helmet industry to promote the safety of athletes.

But this first step from POC is an initial effort . One small effort that can make a huge difference. By adding around 6 millimeters (around 30%) to the thickness of the helmet,

We have been able to add the same measure of shock absorbing Expanded PolyPropylene inside. The additional give of this extra thickness provides a more gentle stop and allows the head more travel in high speed impact.

By analyzing serious crashes in Downhill racing, we have found that the speed of impact between the helmet and the ground may be much higher than is stipulated in helmet testing. Our first eye opener was Scott Macartney's accident in Kitzbühel where our initial analysis showed an impact velocity close to 4 times the velocity tested for in normal ski standards. When looking at other, similar accidents, we could see speeds anywhere between 20%-300% higher.

Theoretically, assuming that a helmet is perfectly constructed, a 5-6 mm thick helmet could pass standard ski helmet testing, assuming that the helmet is capable of allowing an ideal constant deceleration of the head, and at the same time only barely passing the standard. We know that no such helmets exist in reality, and most race ski helmets are at least 20 mm thick (4 times thicker than in the ideal theory). However, applying the same kind of theoretical thinking to the serious DH accidents analyzed by POC, the helmets would need to be between 20-45 mm thick. Continuing this same relation between theory and real life, this equates to a real-life thickness of 80-180 mm. That definitely raises some questions.

Testing of the new POC Skull Comp DH helmets has been performed at speeds higher than those in normal testing, and shows that the extra thickness is well suited to decreasing impact violence at higher speeds. When the helmet was dropped from a height raised by an average 30% compared to normal ski helmet testing, the average decrease of impact violence was between 25-30% in comparison with our normal thickness race ski helmet.

When looking at specific properties in a ski helmet and optimizing it for higher speeds, the problem is the contradiction between high velocity performance and performance at more moderate speeds. This is also a likely accident scenario. The risk if optimizing a helmet at a given thickness for one situation is that you lose performance at the other end of the scale.

People might feel odd about wearing a bigger helmet. As a first step we're talking about a 6 mm radius increase. We ask ourselves - Can someone afford to be vain at 150 Ks down an icy slope?

IMPORTANT: Current POC Skull Comp helmet also complies with the new FIS regulations, with a maximum of 230 GS, when tested according to the CE-Standard.

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