So you’ve decided to invest in a helmet; something to protect from the mountain (and mountain tourists) around you; next up in the modern-day snow outfit is the right pair of goggles.
Alongside the rapid popularity of helmets appearing across pistes over the past few years, goggles have also seen a big rise in uptake. Where once you’d take your Raybans or Maui Jim specs out on a sunny day, saving a cheaper pair of goggles for those occasions when the snow was falling; today’s goggles are designed to be an all-occasions affair. Much like the helmets they complement, they’ll often improve your riding in the process.
There are a multitude of reasons for upgrading from sunglasses to goggles (and believe it or not, style is one of them). First and foremost, they are a LOT safer than shades, with modern designs featuring a ‘crumple-zone’ design that will take the force from a frontal impact, saving your eyes and nose. In effect they extend the protection of the helmet down over the front of your face. Alongside the crash protection, they will also make you a safer rider; ‘proper’ ski goggles have dual-lenses, meaning they don’t fog up, and the one-lens design allows you a large field of view (the larger models often almost giving you full peripheral vision).
Comfort is another key reason for choosing to get a mask over your face – with a full-seal, and controlled ventilation, a good pair of goggles keep your eyes healthy in the dry – and extremely bright – environment on the top of the mountain. If you are somebody who uses contacts when skiing or boarding, googles are almost a neccessity (speaking from experience), such is the improvement in comfort. Also worth paying attention any speed-demons out there – googles mean saying goodbye to tears streaming down your face after those races down the blacks.
Finally, ski fashion today dictactes goggles over sunglasses for anyone who wants to be taken seriously on the slopes. If you’re looking for some with a bit more spectacle than most, check out Jon Olsson’s YNIQ range.
Goggles come in all shapes and sizes, and with a variety of possible features, so here we’ve broken them down into an easy buying guide; which should allow you to pick up the pair that’s right for you.
Most important of all with the hundreds of goggle models available is finding one that fits. Fit comes down to two things – the shape/size of your face, and the design of your helmet. Many a rider has bought an oversized goggle only to find that there’s no room for them between the lip of their helmet and their nose bridge. Know how big your head is (helmet size can be a useful indicator), think where on your forehead your helmet finishes, and how high your nose bridge is compared to others; go from there.
There are quite a few female-specific goggle models available today; taking into consideration the smaller average sizes of women’s faces. More specific, Oakley now also offer an ‘Asian fit’ version of their most popular models, accommodating wider nose-bridges.
2) Size and Style
A variety of styles of goggle can be found today; the latest of which is the ‘fishbowl’ look – popular with freestyle riders, and characterised by very large oversized designs, normally with low-profile frames and a very colourful lens (more on which later). Female specific goggles will often be much smaller, and feature curvier designs, inspired by the trends in women’s sunglasses (see the Oakley Stockholm and Von Zipper Chakra for examples).
Lots of people enjoy the ‘classic’ straight-lined goggle style, given a popular modern update by companies like Shred; these often come in at a lower price-point than the more modern designs, but are also usually lighter.
Lens colouration is a MAJOR part of choosing the right goggle, and NOT just so that it matches your jacket/pants combo – if anything THEY should be determined by the colour of lens you wear instead.
Traditional goggles – the type kept in a cupboard and only picked up for the whitest of white-outs – feature a cheap, orange lens. There is solid reasoning behind this; the orange lenses block UV light, but also maintain a high light-transmission. As a result your eyes are safe from the sun, but you can also see what’s going on in those dark days.
The limitation to this is that the whole world appears orange (it’s not a very kind filter, though it does improve contrast), and the moment the sun shows itself the light getting through can be a real issue, meaning eye strain.
In ideal circumstances today, you would have three different lens options for different snow conditions – something similar to these orange lenses for flat light, a darker lens for days when the weather is struggling to make up its mind, and a near-blackout lens for the bluebirds (sunny days). Whilst almost all goggles allow you to change the lenses in them today, in reality it can be a slow process, so for the most comfort in the most conditions, it’s rewarding to have a ‘middleground’ or ‘Category 2’ lens. These will have a light transmission between 25 and 50%, so when the sun is shinning, you’ll have plenty of protection, and should the clouds come in you’ll still be able to see a good degree of what’s ahead. Any self-respecting goggle company will be able to tell you the full details of each lens they sell, so be sure to check these numbers before buying in. If you really do just want a lens for those snowy periods, look for something between 50 and 80% light transmission (Oakley offer an 86% lens – High Intensity Yellow – which is fantastic in very limited light, but uncomfortable when the sun starts to show). For a lens that will only be used in the sunshine, anything between 5 and 15% is optimal.
Mirrored lenses are something that many people only associate with ‘the pros’, and often decide against wearing. However, the reason experts use them is because of the protection they offer. High-quality mirrored lenses reflect the colours they do because of the light they are filtering – the same light that provides the colourful reflection has been bounced away from your eyes. This is tweaked by some companies, which will filter certain colours to improve your vision in certain conditions. That said, they also look superb, so if you’re even slightly tempted, give it a go. We’ve seen family mums racing down the slopes sporting fire lenses, and good on them!
Polarised lenses are another good feature in bright conditions; eliminating any sunlight reflecting off the slopes. In higher/exposed resorts (Val Thorens, Verbier, Avoriaz, Tignes, Les Arcs, etc) this can make a big difference in Spring, when the melt begins.
4) Additional Features
One of the best additional features a goggle can be packed with is a second lens – effectively giving you the choice depending on weather conditions. Many top-end models will come with a second lens, and a soft case, allowing you to keep the spare in your jacket pocket (many jackets and ski backpacks have designated pockets for them), should you need it whilst out on the mountain.
Something that’s come about in the past 7 years, outrigger arms are now becoming commonplace on many models from a variety of brands. The arms attach to the goggle straps, and allow the goggle to sit more comfortably when worn around a helmet; taking the pressure off the face. See Oakley’s Crowbar, Splice and Airbrake models for an example of this feature.
Most goggles will come with a cloth case, suitable for cleaning the lens with, and providing light protection when in transit, however a valuable addition for those likely to be carrying more with them is an actual softshell (or even solid) protective case; which will help keep them alive and scratch-free that little bit longer.
Getting a little more James Bond, at the very high-end of goggle design these days you will find models featuring HD cameras, GPS tracking, bluetooth and more. Zeal Optics have made a name for themselves in the market with a goggle that’s taken a trick from the GoPro, incorporating a 1080p camera above and between the eyes, for the ultimate in first-person shooting (which with the latest suggestions that helmet cameras can damage the integrity of your helmet, might prove to be a big thing). Not to be outdone, Oakley joined the fray in 2012 with the Airwave; essentially crossing Google Glass with a snow goggle. Provided you have your phone to hand (and data roaming enabled), the Airwave will measure where you’re riding, where your friends are relative to you (on a little screen built into the goggle), read your messages and handle incoming phone calls. The only thing it can’t do is actually ski for you.
Goggles are often seen as a ‘neccessary evil’, hopefully not to be used much, and therefore bought at the cheapest possible price. Basic goggles of this type can be found from £20-40, going up to £60. They’ll often be distinguished by the orange lens – after all, they’re only going to be used when it’s a whiteout.
The entry-level to ‘nice’ goggles is about £50, although budget around £70-80 to get something you’ll really enjoy, with a good lens to boot. Some brands will even throw in two lenses at this price; which is really good value for money.
To enter the premium game (and if you go to the mountains more than once a year, this should be a real consideration), look to spend from £80-140 on a pair of really nice goggs. As long as you look after them, you’ll get an easy 5 years or more before needing to replace them (although as with all things snow, you’ll likely buy more long before this). At this level, you’ll be looking at high-quality build, great lens quality, and some of the better-looking designs.
6) Key Brands
You’ll find some great deals on snow goggles via our sales, but if you need some inspiration, here’s a list of some of the leading brands on the market: