For many people, skiing or snowboarding is their favourite leisure activity. But sometimes it can get pretty fast. For example, speeds on the piste can be equivalent to those of a car. The consequences of a fall can be serious. Protectors specially designed for the back help to protect this sensitive area of the human body. SnowTrex spoke to Thomas Gabriel about back protectors. As a passionate skier and snowboarder, he has taken his hobby into his profession and is responsible for the press and editorial departments at helmexpress.com, a provider of winter sports clothing.
Mr Gabriel, don’t back protectors restrict freedom of movement?
It wasn’t so long ago that back protectors were rather unpopular with winter sports enthusiasts due to their weight and bulky shape, as they actually mainly restricted freedom of movement. Modern back protectors, on the other hand, still have their protective properties, but today they are made of much more flexible and lighter materials that allow full freedom of movement and are hardly noticeable in terms of weight. Back protectors for snowboarders, skiers and cross-country skiers are not only highly recommended but also inexpensive equipment. Simple models are available from around 30 euros.
What is the difference between hard and soft protectors?
The additional designations hard and soft already provide information about the key features of the two different groups of protectors. Soft protectors are usually designed as waistcoats with a zip, which have additional padding in the back area. Depending on the model, this padding can extend from the neck down to the coccyx. Soft protectors should be worn directly over the ski underwear in order to have the closest possible contact with the body. This is the only way to optimally absorb the impact energy during a fall.
Hard protectors, on the other hand, consist of solid plastic plates that function like a protective shield. This type of back protector consists of several interconnected elements. They are equipped with chest, shoulder and hip straps and can also be worn over ski overalls or ski jackets. Hard protectors are mainly suitable for skiers and snowboarders who reach high speeds on their descents. The hard materials prevent sharp branches or ski poles from penetrating in the event of a fall, while the plastic effectively absorbs the impact energy and prevents extensive abrasions.
What should buyers of back protectors look out for?
A snug fit of the back protector is essential for effective protection. If the protectors slip out of place, this could not only impair back protection, but also the athlete’s freedom of movement. This risk does not usually exist with soft protectors. Nevertheless, just like hard protectors, they should definitely be tried on before buying. They should be neither too loose nor too tight. With hard protectors, this can of course be adjusted using the adjustable belts.
In addition to the protective effect, wearing comfort is the top priority. With hard protectors, for example, you can check whether the individual elements have a certain amount of flexibility so that they adapt to the contours of the body. Ventilation is also a must. In the case of soft protectors, breathable fabrics in the cover and padding ensure appropriate air circulation.
Are there any regulations that manufacturers have to comply with?
Just as with ski helmets, there is an EU standard for back protectors that ensures that the products fulfil the requirements. For ski helmets, this is standard EN 1621-1 (2). The most important point in EN 1621-1 (2) is the absorption of impact energy. The standard specifies several impact tests that the respective model must pass in order to fulfil the standard requirements. The basis for EN 1621-1 (2) is experience from motorbike racing, for which this standard was originally created. It was only later that it was extended to winter sports. As with ski helmets, back protectors are also divided into two protection classes, which correspond to the respective hazard potential.
How long does a back protector last?
Like almost all common plastics, the components of back protectors are also subject to the effects of UV radiation and cold. Two things that are increasingly common in winter sports resorts. It is advisable to replace a back protector after about 5 to 7 years. If the back protector is not needed, it should be stored away from light and cold, for example in a sports bag.
FAQs about back protectors
What are back protectors?
Back protectors help to stabilise the back when skiing or snowboarding and protect it, especially in the event of a fall. A distinction is made between soft and hard protectors. Soft protectors are waistcoats padded in the back with a zip. Hard protectors consist of solid plastic plates.
Do I need a back protector?
Back protectors are not mandatory on the slopes. However, thanks to their stabilising and protective function, they can give winter sports enthusiasts a safer feeling on the slopes and protect them in the event of a fall. Winter sports enthusiasts who like to ski fast also like to use a back protector.
Do I need a soft or hard protector?
Hard protectors are mainly suitable for skiers and snowboarders who like to go fast. Soft protectors are suitable for anyone who wants extra protection for their back.
Do back protectors restrict freedom of movement?
These days, back protectors are made of more flexible and lighter materials than in the past, so they allow full freedom of movement.
How much does a back protector cost?
Simple models are available from as little as 30 euros. As is so often the case, the price is open at the top.
Where can you buy a back protector?
The best place to buy a back protector is from a sports retailer.