An Expert Guide to Ski Goggles

Ski expert Matt B. overviews what makes a good pair of goggles great, and how this important piece of gear can help you see more and worry less on the slopes!

Photo by Volker Meyer
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Welcome to the fabulous world of ski goggles! One of my personal favorites to nerd out on, goggles have the ability to really make or break your day out on the slopes. A good goggle is something you won't even think about as you charge down the mountain – but a bad goggle, well, that'll keep you back in the lodge trying to get rid of the fog.

Rule No. 1 when it comes to ski goggles – and something that is not the case with every other piece of ski gear – is this: You get what you pay for.

Sure, there are exceptions (we'll get there) but by and large, a more expensive goggle will serve up a superior experience. Does that mean that the $50 pair of goggles you've been eyeing will guarantee you a bad day? Absolutely not. It just means that you need to fully understand when and how to use a particular goggle – which is why you're reading this!

Field of View

Most folks ask me this question first when looking at a new pair of goggles: Is bigger better?

Well, the short answer is, "usually," but the long answer is, "sometimes."

When it comes to field of view, you're really looking to maximize peripheral vision – ideally so that you don't even see the goggle frame at all – to ensure you have wide, sweeping views of the slopes (and anyone else on them).

A decade or two ago, getting the best field of vision meant paying gobs of money for a pair of fancy "spherical" lenses. But that's not the case anymore – basically all goggle shapes afford an excellent field of view depending on the model.

So with that in mind, let's take a look at the two main (and one bonus) shapes goggle manufacturers are producing these days.

Someone emerges from the snow, coated in powder and wearing an orange jacket, a white helmet, and blue-tinted goggles. A chair lift runs in the background.

Photo by Mike Muller

Goggle Shapes

Skiing and snowboarding goggles (they're the same, btw) come in two primary lens shapes: spherical and cylindrical.

Spherical lenses are curved along both the vertical and horizontal axes, sometimes giving them the "bug-eye" shape you may have seen on folks at the resort. This design is intentional, as it seeks to mimic the curvature of your eyeballs.

Cylindrical lenses are curved along the horizontal axis and are "flat" on the vertical axis. These used to be the industry standard for decades until spherical lenses became much more prominent in goggle lineups, and albeit, typically on the pricier end of the spectrum. Most entry-level pairs of goggles will feature cylindrical lenses.

So what's the difference?

Basically, the spherical versus cylindrical debate boils down to two key differences: distortion and price.

Distortion – basically, seeing something incorrectly because of the lens structure – is not an issue on spherical lenses since they mimic the human eye. Instead, cylindrical lenses can suffer from distortion around their edges because of the flatness along the vertical axis. Theoretically, yeah, you may not see everything exactly as it is – however this is really minimal so I encourage you not to get caught up in this.

Price-wise, spherical lenses are the more premium, harder-to-produce option, and thus are more expensive.

Expert tip: Try not to get caught up in the spherical vs. cylindrical debate. I have pairs of each and have zero concerns about the possible distortion of my sight. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to actually point to any distortion in my cylindrical-lens goggles unless I knew that it could occur. Prioritize fit and helmet compatibility over goggle and lens shape.

Bonus shape: Toric lenses

Toric lenses are really just coming onto the market, so while many goggles don't feature them yet, here's the skinny: Toric lenses are basically a hybrid of cylindrical and spherical lenses. The main benefit – compared to full cylindrical or spherical – is that toric lenses eliminate some of the "bug-eye" shape from a fully round lens. If that's a worry of yours, then this is a good solution for you.

Contrast

A skier in a neon green ski jacket and pants jumping out of powder snow on his way down a slope with the sun shining brightly out of the clouds behind him

Photo courtesy of Dynafit

Just like glasses (and sunglasses), manufacturers are always trying to improve their lenses to provide greater clarity and visibility. Often, this means limiting glare and filtering harsh light, while also enhancing the contrast that comes through a goggle.

You know how pro fishermen use polarized lenses because they help cut down on the reflection/UV rays bouncing off the water? Skiers and snowboarders have their own versions, too.

Specifically, look to goggle makers Smith and Oakley, whose ChromaPop and Prizm technologies, respectively, are specifically designed to provide a more vibrant image in your goggle. If you have some extra money in your ski budget, these are a nice addition for sunny and partly cloudy days – but they're not required. Remember: When it's nuking snow or when things are socked in, nothing is going to help you see better.

Lens Tints and Colors

Choosing the right lens tint is up there when it comes to top goggle priorities. Choose the wrong one, and you'll either give yourself a headache from squinting too much, or you'll barely be able to see and wonder how to turn the lights on.

Here's the gist of things when looking at lens tints:

Variable Light Transmission (VLT)

​ This is a measure of how much light gets through your goggle lens. The less light that comes through (i.e. the lower the VLT), the better the lens becomes for sunny days. Higher VLT, on the other hand, means that more light gets through, meaning a high-VLT lens is more appropriate for cloudy and stormy days.

Each goggle manufacturer has its own VLT chart and myriad tints, so ask your Curated Ski Expert to help you choose the best tint for the area and conditions where you ski. For example, all things equal, a skier in Colorado should probably opt for a low-VLT lens compared to an east coast skier, where clouds and fog are a daily occurrence.

Lens Color

The tint of a lens typically narrows its color palette, too. Black, blue, and green lenses absorb more light (and thus, have a lower VLT) than red, orange, and yellow lenses, making them more suitable for sunny days. The latter are best for cloudy, overcast days. Clear lenses are on the market, too, and are great for night skiing.

Many brands offer their low-VLT goggles with a mirrored finish, and the reason for this is simple: the mirror helps reject more light, meaning less light gets through, and resulting in a better bright-light goggle lens. Mirrored lenses do not do well in low light conditions.

Again, this is a generalization, so make sure to confirm with the tint chart from the brand you buy. But in general, I do not advise buying a pair of goggles based on the color. In other words, please do not buy goggles just because they match your jacket or helmet. You're gonna have a bad time.

One more thing: Ski goggle makers are now pushing photochromic lenses on some of their models in an attempt to have a one-goggle-lens pair. These lenses automatically adjust based on the light and in theory, this sounds great. In practice, however, you may find that the lenses are slow to change and never truly excel at any certain light condition. Expert tip: Personally, I have two primary lenses, one black and one rose-colored. I find that these cover 90% of the conditions I ski in and even though I don't love the color scheme, I do love not complaining about having the wrong tint. I also have a pair of yellow lenses – something often marketed for low visibility conditions – but really don't like them. The entire world looks yellow, versus my rose lenses, which are an excellent medium.

Changing Things Up: Interchangeable Lenses

One of the best ways to make sure your goggles work for a variety of conditions is to buy more goggle lenses! Just about every goggle brand has its own system to quickly change goggle lenses, which makes adapting to various conditions a breeze.

Some brands rely on magnets (Anon is the most prominent magnet user, and claims that they are plenty strong to stay on during hard falls) while other brands like Dragon have quick-use levers on the sides of the goggle frame.

When buying interchangeable lenses, it's common for brands to include a low- and high-light lens, so you'll always be ready to take on whatever mother nature throws at you.

Fogging

A skier kicking up a wave of powder snow

Photo courtesy of Dynafit

Let's face it: foggy goggles suck (no, not talking about the Foggy Goggle at Sunday River – a personal fav).

Just about all goggles on the market today feature anti-fog coatings to help prevent this misery – but understanding how fog occurs is key to preventing it.

Basically – and especially when wearing a mouth and nose covering – the warm, moist air from your breath floats upward and gets trapped in your goggles. Weird, I know, but it is what it is. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as tucking your facemask under the bottom foam of your goggles, using a helmet that blocks the vents scattered around the goggle frame, or even breathing incorrectly.

My suggestion to prevent fogging is this: pull your facemask or gaiter over your nose, but don't put them under your goggles; breathe with your mouth, not your nose, and try not to breathe too heavily when looking down; and leave your goggles on – don't take them on and off, because when you put them on your forehead or helmet, they trap a ton of moisture rising off of your sweaty face and scalp.

Also, most anti-fog coatings have a shelf life, meaning you will eventually wipe them off if you constantly wipe fog out of the inside of your goggles versus letting it fade naturally (which I realize, is easier said than done.)

There are a few very high-end goggles out there today which feature battery-powered fans to get rid of the fog. If you just can't stop your goggles from fogging over, this may be a viable option – but know that these cost a pretty penny.

Fit and Sizing

Goggle sizing isn't always apparent, so it's important to do your research (or have your Curated Ski Expert do it for you!) to make sure you're getting appropriately fitting goggles. Head size, gender, and more can all have an impact on the size of goggles you need, so keep this in mind!

The frame size of goggles not only impacts your field of vision, but also how they fit with your helmet, which, in turn, can have fog implications. Similarly, you don't want any pressure points on your face due to goggles that are too big or small because, well, that would just suck.

Foam

Most brands have the physical construction of their goggles dialed in. However, one differing component is the foam they use. Higher-end goggles use better foam – usually in multiple layers – which will feel better on your face. Simple, right?

With that, better foam (and more foam layers) also provide better insulation and ventilation, helping to prevent fog and keep your face warm.

Finally, keep in mind that foam – especially when you are really exerting and sweating – can irritate your face. If you see this happening, it may be wise to switch to a different brand of goggles.

Over the Glasses Goggles

Do you wear glasses on the mountain? If so, over the glasses (OTG) goggles are a great option for you. These are goggles specifically designed to fit over a pair of prescription glasses easily and comfortably. Your results may vary, and if you don't love the feel, you may have better luck with a prescription insert, which will allow you to ditch the glasses. Finally, some people like visor helmets – which have a "flip-down" visor shield instead of goggles – better than OTG goggles, especially when it comes to fogging and comfort!

If you have any questions on finding the right pair of ski goggles for your needs, please feel free to reach out to me or one of my fellow Ski experts here on Curated for free advice and recommendations. 

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Written By
Matt B.
Ski Expert
Back in middle school, I dragged my dad to my school ski club's intro meeting to learn more. I'd be lapping a tiny Southeast Michigan hill with a whopping 350' vert, but man it sounded fun. Unfortunately younger me didn't take the chance, because when my parents said I'd have to kick in half of my a...
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