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The Goggles Guide

How to Choose Ski and Snowboard Goggles

The basic function of any pair of snow goggles is to enhance your vision on the slopes by protecting your eyes from wind, snow, and cold, as well as compensating for variable lighting conditions.

Basically, they’re key to having a good day on the slopes which makes choosing the right pair incredibly important. With the dizzying selection of ski and snowboard goggles on the market today, choosing the right pair can get confusing—there’s a lot more to it than picking a pair that matches your jacket. Here’s a quick overview of things to consider while making your selection.

The most important things to consider when choosing a goggle can be, at first, everything but the goggles themselves. What conditions will you be riding in? Will you be wearing a helmet? What size (in general terms) is your face? How much money would you like to spend? Answering those questions will help you narrow some of your options down.

The Ins and Outs of Lens Technology

Lens Tint & Technology

Dark lens tints shield your eyes from bright sunlight, whereas lighter tints, such as persimmon, add contrast on overcast days when the light is flat. UV protection is incredibly important for goggles, since not only does UV intensity rise the higher you get above sea level, but reflection off of the snowpack can make potential damage worse. The good news is most modern goggles offer 100% UV protection; nonetheless, you want to match the amount of visible light transmission (the tint) to the conditions you’re riding in. In sunny weather, goggles with a low VLT offer the most protection and eye comfort; look for lenses with less than 25% VLT. In flat light or on overcast days, you’re going to need a higher VLT; 20-70% VLT will cover the range of conditions you might encounter. For stormy weather or night skiing, lenses with high VLT (light tint or clear, which is 100%) will help you see the snow best. You can compare the rate of visible light transmission for many lens tints in our goggle sizing charts, which can be found on each goggle product page. Compare Oakley, Smith, and Dragon, for example. Note that mirrored lenses reflect bright light and harmful rays away from your eyes as an added measure of protection.

In addition to providing protection, many lenses feature advanced technology that filters light to enhance contrast and vision, which can be very helpful when you’re flying down the mountain and need to process visual information quickly. Technologies like Smith ChromaPop, Oakley Prizm, and Spy Happy Lens may add to the cost of a pair of goggles, but for many the enhanced performance is well worth it.

Interchangeable Lenses

If you’re like most people, you’re out skiing or riding in a range of different conditions. Recognizing that most people aren’t going to carry around a couple of different goggles “just in case”, many vendors offer goggles that are interchangeable. Most come with two lenses, one for low light and one for sunny days, and you can switch them out as needed. For most popular models, additional replacement lenses are available if you want to change up the lens color or if your lenses are lost or damaged. These goggles use everything from clips to magnets to secure the lens to the frame for easy switch-outs.

Photochromic Lenses

In an effort to create even more versatile goggles, manufacturers have also developed photochromic lenses, which feature technology that alters the tint of the lenses in response to changes in ambient light. This convenient feature makes them highly versatile, but at a higher price tag. The speed with which the lens tint adapts may be affected by low temperatures. The new Uvex Variotronic lenses address this problem with quick-change tinting controlled by the push of a button.

Polarized Lenses

Polarized lenses, while more expensive, can be extremely useful, since they eliminate blinding glare. Polarization is a special filter that operates on the same principle as Venetian blinds, allowing light to enter the eye along one axis. This blocks glare off of reflective surfaces, reducing eye fatigue and enhancing visibility. Polarizing filters can also have a drawback, however, in that they make it more difficult to differentiate between ice and soft snow.

Lens Shape

Another important aspect of lens design is the shape of the lens. Spherical, or rounded, lenses reduce distortion because they’re shaped more like the eye’s actual three-dimensional field of vision. Flat lenses add a bit of distortion, but are less expensive to manufacture, and therefore less expensive to buy.

Fog-Fighting Ability

There’s nothing worse than being suddenly blinded mid-run by fogging inside your goggles. The reason that goggles fog up due to condensation that happens when warm air that’s full of moisture either from sweat or your breath comes in contact with lenses that are colder because of outdoor temperatures or snow. It can take the form of tiny water droplets or, if it’s really cold out, the fog may freeze inside the goggles. But never fear, since goggles first became popular, manufacturers have come up with many ways to fight the fog, including:

  • Lens design: A dual-lens design—two lenses, one in contact with cold air and one in contact with your warm face, with air in-between—is key to preventing fogging; the better (and more expensive) the goggle, the more sophisticated and effective this design will be.
  • Lens Coatings and Treatment: These are designed to make it harder for the condensed droplets to stick to the lenses, or to disperse them over a wider area.
  • Ventilation: This is actually mostly a function of frame design, with openings around the edges of the frame that allows moving air to flow through the goggles to disperse moist air before it can settle on the lenses. These vents are usually covered in foam for comfort and to keep blowing snow out.

Frame Size & Fit

Face Size

After enhancing vision, a goggle’s second basic function is wind and weather protection. This has more to do with the frame than the lens, so selecting the correct frame size is crucial to getting a good fit that offers the best protection. Medium- or larger-sized faces should go with larger frames, and those smaller faces, like women or children, should get smaller frames.  Aside from styling, that is the main differentiation point of  women’s goggles and kids’ goggles—they’re tailored specifically for smaller faces.

Helmet Compatibility

Another consideration when choosing a frame is whether it’s designed to be worn with a helmet. Practically all goggles these days are technically helmet-compatible, but you should double check that your goggle doesn’t leave a gap when worn with a helmet, as that gap can result in a freezing and/or sunburned forehead. Not to mention that, well, it just doesn’t look very cool. The best way to ensure that your helmet and goggles play well together is to go with the same manufacturer. Many, including Smith, Giro, Oakely, and .anon, to name a few, specifically design their helmets and goggles to fit well together. You not only get a seamless fit, but very often they are designed to work as a single ventilation system, with air flowing up through the bottom of the goggle and then out the top and through ventilation holes in the helmet brim. This allows for the best circulation of air.

Peripheral Vision

Sometimes manufacturers will make a frame that appears to be larger but is actually designed to fit a smaller face and provide lots of peripheral vision. Another way a manufacturer can design a frame with greater peripheral vision is to make the lens sit closer to the wearer’s face. While this may sound like the answer to everyone’s prayers, these goggles can interfere with long eyelashes, which can be annoying. Eyeglass-wearers will need to look for Over-The-Glasses (OTG) frames that are deeper to allow eyeglasses to be worn under the goggles.

Comfort & Advanced Tech

Of course, not all manufacturers will design a lens and a frame and call it good. The type of face foam that’s used is important as well. Multi-density foam can be more comfortable than single density, and some people may need special hypoallergenic foam.

A lot of the crazy tech in goggles in the past years, like GPS technology or heads-up display, has gone away; however, fog-fighting is an area where some of the latest innovations are taking place. Smith Turbo Fan goggles have small battery-powered fans built in to fight fog, while the new Oakley Inferno and Abom Anti-Fog goggles use heated lenses to prevent condensation. If you want to check out the latest goggle tech, the simplest way to find it is by sorting the goggles from most to least expensive; the pricier models will likely be the ones sporting more bells and whistles.

Decision Time

At last, having narrowed your selection down to the goggles with the features that you need, your final selection should be goggles with graphics and a color that you like. After all, you’ll be wearing them all season or, with proper care, several seasons to come.


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