American Mountain Guide Geoff Unger tests the Smith Variance ski helmet.
I am going to come right out and say it. I have a negative bias against helmets for skiing. I don’t understand it. I wear one for climbing all the time, but I grew up without one on the slopes and it stuck. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn a helmet skiing in my lifetime. It doesn’t make sense, but I am very particular when it comes to this specific item of equipment.
Smith generously sent me the Variance Helmet ($180) to test, which is not quite their top-of-the-line model, but has very similar features and look only without the AEROCORE™ construction found in the Vantage. I found the fit to be very good. The BOA™ adjustment system allowed me to dial it in whether I had on a thin hat and neck gaiter, or wore it straight out of the box.
I hike for my turns a good bit of the time. So being able to remove the earpieces and pack the helmet away are critical. It took a little wiggling, but I was able to remove the earpieces for hiking and more spring-like conditions. To do so I had to pop the small tabs loose on the BOA™ system and then slide the earpieces off. The harness for the adjustment seems fragile, but it took the fiddling with aplomb, and it seemed like it would withstand a few rounds of on and off.
My last Smith helmet broke at the middle of the adjustment system. I believe this was due to putting it into and taking it out of my pack. As I stated above, I have barely used a helmet for skiing, so you have a good idea how durable I found the system then. In climbing helmets, there is more of a floating system in the adjustment feature, allowing it to fit inside the helmet and remain protected from abuse in the pack. For this reason, I tested the helmet on a few runs without the adjustment system in place. In my opinion, this decreased the comfort and fit while possibly decreasing function during a crash or collision—I would not recommend doing this to anyone. I did think about removing and replacing the system each run, but that seems unrealistic.
The bottom line: I recommend the Smith Variance for its fit and comfort. Once it was on, I didn’t even notice it was there. However, I am still looking for a solution for touring and booting up couloirs where I can confidently place the helmet inside my pack without fear of breaking the adjustment system and rendering the helmet ineffective for the way down.
•Adjustable Smith x Boa™ fit system
•AirEvac 2 ventilation
•Low-profile regulator adjustable