Until recently I would rarely wear a helmet while skinning uphill. I run hot and would usually carry my ultralight climbing helmet inside my touring backpack until it was time to rip skins and descend. After over a week of touring both up and down with the new Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet that’s changing, and I feel better protected for it! After reading some statements from Bruce Edgerly, co-founder of BCA, I feel like this helmet was designed specifically for me!
“Our goal is to save lives,” says Bruce Edgerly, BCA Vice President and co-founder. “Asphyxiation is only part of the equation in an avalanche: about 30 percent of fatalities are caused by trauma, mainly through head and chest injuries. We think skiing and snowboarding helmets are an essential piece of backcountry safety equipment, but they need to be lighter and better ventilated.”
The BC Air’s minimal weight of 340 grams/11.9 oz (in size S/M), paired with an abundance of ventilation in the form of passive channel venting, provides direct airflow between head and helmet. This venting system moves moisture and heat to avoid clamminess on long days. The balance of lightweight breathability is intended to allow wearers to forego removing the helmet on the ‘skin track’ portion of the day, thus increasing safety in avalanche terrain while maintaining comfort. For sweaty ascents, earpads can be removed when maximum airflow is needed.
The goal, as Edgerly notes, is “to be able to leave your helmet on all the time: whether you’re going up or coming down the mountain. Do you turn your transceiver off on the uphill? Do you put away your airbag trigger? Of course not. And you also shouldn’t be taking off your helmet.”
Integrated headlamp clips allow users to maintain visibility during non-daylight hours to aid in safety during dawn and dusk backcountry missions. Also included: a Boa® fit system allows for a snug fit across a range of head sizes so that the BC Air can offer maximum protection without slippage.
A full ASTM snow sports certification of the BC Air touring helmet provides proper safety in the event of a crash or impact. This further discourages those looking for a lighter option to choose a climbing helmet that’s not correctly rated for skiing and riding-related head impacts.
“We’re always excited to address the ‘bigger picture’ regarding safety,” Edgerly explains about BCA’s new venture into headwear. “By addressing the trauma side of backcountry safety, we’re broadening our scope and increasing our ability to save more lives.”
How I Tested
This past March I wore this helmet on three Spring tours to the Gulf of Slides, two tours on the west side of Mount Washington, and one quick mission out and back on Hillman’s Highway. One the westside tours saw temperatures in the mid-fifties with almost no wind and strong solar gain. A week later the same tour was made in more winter like conditions with temps in the mid-20s. During all 6 tours I but the helmet on at the trailhead and left it on for the entirety of the tour. I wanted to see if BCA’s claims of superior ventilation would hold up. I learned some other nice advantages of having a helmet like this that I will get into below.
The best attribute of this helmet is the level of protection it offers. With a full ASTM snow sports certification this helmet can actually protect me from a serious crash. The ultralight mountaineering helmet I usually tour with is not rated for the types of impacts possible when riding avalanche terrain. And that’s not the only extra level of protection I started to think about while touring with this helmet. Now, any time I am in avalanche terrain, I can have this important piece of PPE on regardless of whether I’m in uphill mode or not.
Another realization I made was how wearing my helmet throughout my tour led to some improvements in efficiency. First, since I wasn’t storing my helmet inside my touring pack like I usually do I opened up storage room in my 32 liter touring backpack. It was definitely easier for me to fit my full guiding kit in my backpack with the helmet on my head, and for quick recreational missions with a partner or two I could see me reaching for a smaller/lighter touring pack than what I would usually carry.
Anyone that rides in the backcountry with me knows I like to work on my efficiency at transitions (going from skinning hill to ready to descend). In my avalanche classes it is clear this is a skill most backcountry travelers could improve upon. In a group of seven riders I often time the gap between the first person clipped in and ready to ride and the last person, and it’s usually between 10-15 minutes! I realized while transitioning at the top of our run already having my helmet on was one less step needed to be finished with my transition.
I have a large head and often struggle finding helmets that fit my dome well. The L/XL size of this lid fits perfect! The Boa system makes it feel custom molded and I found it easily adjustable for when I was wearing it over my bare (and bald) head or over a medium weight wool hat during a colder tour. A soft plush sleeve over the chin strap might be good for some but I removed it as it felt almost to warm and fuzzy on my neck and I don’t mind a bare nylon chin strap. The breathability of the helmet really is the stand out feature in comfort though… air just moves through this helmet freely and even after skinning uphill for 2.5 miles and gaining 2k of vertical in mid-fifty degree low wind temps I felt zero discomfort. Seriously I am very impressed with how breathable this design is! I didn’t even realize that the ear pads are removable if you need even more breathability until I started writing this review so I admit I haven’t tested it with the ear pads removed, but will update this when I have.
It really feels like BCA was targeting me when they designed this helmet. For years I’ve justified touring with an ultralight climbing helmet not rated for full ski protection. Even though that climbing helmet had great ventilation I still opted for carrying it in my pack on the uphill portions of my tour regardless if I was in avalanche terrain or not. For just a few ounces more I can now tour with a proper ski helmet and still be comfortable. This is a solid addition to BCA’s long line of safety orientated products meant to reduce risk and injury in the case of an accident. Bulky warm helmets are fine for lift serviced skiing, but backcountry riders need to count ounces and value breathability comfort over the long skin track… the Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet can save you weight while still providing true protection in the event of an accident. 10/10
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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