Any kind of body armor may seem overkill to skiers who stick near groomed trails. The incidence of back injuries at a major resort like Whistler in British Columbia, for instance, was under one in 10,000 skier/snowboarder days, according to one study. If you're keeping it under control on the slopes, you need only bring your natural-born backside to absorb minor shocks.
But some backcountry skiers embrace steep and treacherous terrain way off-piste. Theirs is a fast, vertical type of backcountry made possible by newer telemark and alpine-touring bindings with enough power to make tight turns around trees and navigate over rock outcroppings. Similarly, splitboards now allow snowboarders to access similar extremes in the deep woods. If you are the type of athlete who embraces these conditions, a back protection device might be a good investment.
Your question makes me think of my buddy Henry and his mountain bike. On a recent summer day, I watched as Henry gleefully boomed down a trail traversed by hidden water bars. He hit one the wrong way, pulled a chimp-flip, and cracked a vertebra. I scrambled to find a phone and then kept him still until the stretcher arrived. After months of physical theraphy and hobbling around in a brace, Henry’s back on the bike. I’m sure his appetite for risk has changed a bit, but now I know what to get him for his next birthday. (Sorry to spoil the surprise, H.)
Check out one of the following ultralight, sweat-vented devices for protection in snow this season or dirt in the next one.