Sweet Protection builds some of the most advanced ski, bike, and whitewater helmets on the planet. But its roots trace back to illegal halfpipes hidden in the woods of rural Norway. This is the story of a few passionate athletes and their quest for better gear.
“Skateboarding is not a crime!” Well, actually, in Norway it was for a time. From 1978 to 1989, the Norwegian government banned the use, manufacture, or sale of skateboards in the country.
But the kids still wanted to ride. And in the pastoral mountain town of Trysil, a group of friends led by Ståle N. Møller and Atle Enberget began a covert mission to build and ride their own skateboards.
This — and the short-lived Bushmade Skateboards — was the genesis of what would gradually grow into one of the most technologically advanced outdoor brands in the world, Sweet Protection.
Sweet Protection: From the Bush to Brain Buckets
For a few years, Møller, Enberget, and friends crafted their skateboards in a garage and constructed secret halfpipes in the forests around Trysil to ride them. Their parents even helped out by smuggling in trucks and wheels from the border of Sweden.
But as the crew grew up, they began finding new adventures in the rivers and mountains surrounding their wild, forested homeland.
Kayaking and skiing overtook skateboarding, and the young men again found invention in necessity: There were no good kayak helmets. So, just as in skateboarding, they decided to build their own — and it would prove foundational to the trio’s burgeoning brand.
In 1997, Møller built his friend and top kayaker, Erik Martinsen, a Kevlar kayak and, more importantly, a carbon fiber helmet. When Martinsen used both at the freestyle kayaking world championships, the helmet really turned heads — everybody wanted it.
Suddenly, Sweet Protection helmets were rolling out of the old Bushmade Skateboards garage, and the brand was on its way to becoming a staple of whitewater helmets around the world.
This sparked the Sweet Protection brand. And while the plan of starting a kayak company called “SNM (Ståle Norman Møller) Playboats” fizzled away with Ståle still in design school, a couple of those original kayaks still sit in Sweet Protection’s offices to this day.
Sweet Protection’s Foundation in Sport
And so, in 2000, the trio founded Sweet Protection. Among its first moves was to approach Norwegian snowboard legend Terje Håkonsen with a prototype helmet — a move that would underpin the brand’s reliance on its athletes’ input.
Håkonsen saw potential, joined the team, and Sweet Protection made the move from the local garage to the international scene.
Nearly 20 years later, Sweet Protection stands as a leading producer of high-tech sports helmets. With the design ethos of “stronger, lighter, better,” the brand is expanding to include goggles, sunglasses, and even apparel.
To step through the doorway of the Sweet Protection headquarters is to step into a bustling but rustic business. Sharing a wall with the town fire station, a dozen workstations overlook the mountain bike and ski terrain of a resort where Enberget’s father worked as a ski patroller in his youth.
But while the Sweet Protection team stores its mountain bikes and skis right in the office and can take laps on nearby trails at lunch, the work that goes on is serious. Helmets adorned with Red Bull logos hint at high-level athletes. Olympic and World Cup ski race helmets sit among consumer models ready for testing.
And it’s here that Møller showed off some of the brand’s newest tech: the Arbitrator convertible mountain bike helmet.
Arbitrator and Beyond
Møller, Enberget, and the rest of the Sweet Protection team come across as humble and passionate outdoorspeople. They shake hands in the humble office while dressed in riding apparel, tech shirts, and jacket. But shrouded by an understated vibe, the team packs some serious design chops.
Today, Møller’s signature product, the Arbitrator Helmet, hit the market this summer to glowing reviews. The convertible mountain bike helmet gives a removable face guard to enduro riders.
Of the 87 parts in the Arbitrator helmet, the brand produces every one, except for a single screw, in house. The helmet has tolerances as fine as 0.02 mm, and everything has to be certified across multiple standards and countries.
It now fills a niche for riders who want a comfortable helmet for riding uphill or even on modest trail days. But when the going gets fast on the downhills, just snap on the faceguard. With super-strong carbon fiber construction, the Arbitrator is fully certified for downhill riding in North America and Europe.
Another 2019 helmet launch, the Ascender Helmet also fills a versatile role in the mountains. Certified for both climbing and skiing, the brand built it for serious ski mountaineers who want a helmet they can wear all day.
It’s light and breathable enough for uphill skinning and even vertical climbing. And the design has enough foam to protect against the higher-velocity impacts found in downhill skiing. Thus, it’s one helmet you can wear all day, uphill and down.
Launching 2019: Sunglasses, Goggles, Apparel
While Sweet Protection is still known mostly for whitewater helmets in North America, that’s all soon to change.
The brand is launching a much wider array of products for 2019 and 2020. Look out for high-quality merino wool shirts, tech jackets, and bike shorts.
Its new goggle releases — the Interstellar, Clockwork, and Firewall — dropped for the winter 2019 season. Like other Sweet Protection products, it uses high-tech materials and engineering to achieve products that compete with the best in the industry. For example, the Interstellar Goggle touts what it calls “retina illumination grading” (RIG) to enhance visibility in low-light conditions.
So keep an eye out for that S-shaped logo on the slopes, trails, and rivers. When you see it, you’ll know it’s born out of a commitment to sports and passion for the outdoors in a small town in Norway.
The designers very likely skied some laps or rode some trail at lunch the day they drew up the schematics for that helmet, goggle, or jacket. And they will be wearing it when they clock out of work and head to the resort right outside their door.
This article is sponsored by Sweet Protection.