What Is VLT in Ski Goggles?

Published on 03/08/2023 · 7 min readSki Expert Hannah Bibbo answers the most pressing questions about ski and snowboard goggles, ensuring their perfect fit, best uses, and longevity.
Hannah Bibbo, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Hannah Bibbo

Photo by Curt Nichols

There are so many types of ski and snowboard goggles out there that picking the right ones for you can seem overwhelming. Between the different shapes, sizes, types of lenses, and colors, how do you know where to start? When it comes to picking the right pair of goggles for you, you want to make sure you’re picking the right lens color, the right VLT (which we’ll get into), the features you want, and very importantly, you want to make sure that they fit correctly.

What is VLT in ski goggles?

When referring to ski and snowboard goggles, VLT stands for “visible light transmission,” which means how much light passes through the lens to your eyes. Lighter-tinted lenses have a higher VLT, which is great for cloudy days, while darker-tinted lenses have a lower VLT, great for sunny days.

What VLT is best for all conditions?

A VLT of 25-60% is the best option if you want to own just one pair of lenses for all conditions, like the Smith Rock Salt/Tanin/Rose Gold lens (36%).

For bright, sunny days, you’ll want to look for VLT of 5-20%, like the Smith ChromaPop Sun Platinum Mirror (13%). For cloudy, snowy days, you’ll want to look for VLT of 65-90%, like the Dragon Photochromatic Yellow lens (73%).

How to clean ski goggles

You don’t have to buy anything special to clean your ski goggles. Instead, use the microfiber protective pouch that the goggles came with to only wipe the outside. Do not wipe the inside of the goggle with anything; you will risk scratching them or removing the anti-fog coating.

Photo by Karsten Winegeart

How do you know if ski goggles fit?

You will know your goggles fit correctly if they are snug across your cheekbones, forehead, and nose without leaving any gaps on your face. Be sure that they are not too tight and not painful. There also should not be a gap between your helmet and the top of the goggles where cold air could get in.

How to keep ski goggles from fogging

Here are a few things you can do to keep your goggles from fogging: 1. Make sure not to touch the inside of the goggles with your fingers. 2. Lift your goggles up on the lifts to let air in. 3. Make sure there is ventilation between your ski mask and goggles. 4. If none of those tricks work, you can use anti-fog spray by spraying a little on both sides of the goggles.

What do different color goggle lenses do?

Different color goggle lenses allow different amounts of light, or a different amount of visible light transmission (VLT), through. A lighter-colored goggle, like yellow, gold, or amber, will have a higher VLT and be better for cloudy or snowy days. On the other hand, darker-colored goggles, like blue, red, or mirrored will have a lower VLT and perform better on bright and sunny days.

Skiers and snowboarders searching for the perfect goggles can feel overwhelmed by the acronyms that manufacturers toss out. While it’s not necessary to understand every abbreviation and lens technology, understanding the difference between VLT and lens tints is one of the most important distinctions to ensure you pick the right lens type when you head out on the slopes. Helmet compatibility, vents, and foam padding may be easier to compare, but the lens type you opt for is just as important as the goggle frames because it ensures visibility and safety in the light conditions you’ll experience. For a moment, let’s put aside more complicated lens technology like Photochromic lenses, interchangeable lenses, and cylindrical lenses to focus on lens tint and VLT.

Some darker lenses are a neutral tint (grey) that blocks all wavelengths of light equally, but most lenses have a hue, just like color filters used in black-and-white photography. By letting more light of certain colors through, optics can allow for better vision in different light conditions. While almost all goggles block UV rays (both UVA and UVB), and some are polarized to block reflected, indirect light, manufacturers also choose a base tint color that matches the conditions the lens will be used in.

In theory, lens tint and VLT are completely independent concepts, but in practice, most optics manufacturers offer high VLT ski goggles for overcast conditions with warmer lens tints like coppers, ambers, roses and oranges, while their low VLT lenses for bright light conditions often use cooler tints like greens, blues and purples.

Why are lenses with a very dark tint often green-blue in hue, while goggles with closer to clear lenses are often warmer (red-orange, copper) in hue? Some of it is personal preference, but it’s also about reducing eye strain in different light conditions.

On dark, overcast days, the flat light conditions make it difficult to see variations in the snow and terrain. Since the light is diffused through a thick layer of clouds, there’s little to no contrast on the snow in these dark conditions, which makes it difficult to discern moguls, bumps, and other terrain. Similarly, night skiing can cause similar problems because the light comes from so many different directions.

Because warmer tints allow less blue light through, they increase the amount of contrast you are able to perceive in the snow, which decreases eye fatigue as well as helps to keep you from skiing into unexpected terrain.

On the other side of the spectrum, bright sunlight produces plenty of contrast on snow, so there’s no need for low VLT lenses to increase contrast. On sunny, bluebird days, especially at high altitudes, the bright sunlight and glare aren’t just annoying, they can also be harmful. Lenses optimized for these bright conditions try to cut the most impactful light while retaining a clear view, so they use cooler hues.

If you only have one pair of goggles for both bright and dark conditions, there are some other solutions. Some goggles use photochromic lenses to shift their tint based on ambient light. Others use interchangeable lenses to let you select the ideal lens when there’s more or less light. However, many people pick one happy medium goggle and lens combo that can handle a wide range of light conditions. This one-size-fits-all approach may be a little dark on low-light storm days, and a little too bright for bright spring days, but most google manufacturers offer a lens designed to work in a wide swath of conditions.

Just keep in mind that features like field of view, peripheral vision, airflow, strap adjustments, and whether the lens shape is a spherical lens or cylindrical lens are easy to compare in a store, the lens tint and hue can only be compared in the light conditions they will face in the real world. Having an expert to clarify what a Smith or Oakley goggle lens is designed for and which conditions are the key to a clear view for any skier or snowboarder researching VLT ratings.

What is the best color lens for ski goggles?

The best color lens for ski goggles depends on the conditions that you are skiing in. The most versatile color lens is a rose or amber because they have an average amount of visible light transmission (VLT). A lens color with a higher VLT, such as yellow, would be best for cloudy days, while a lens color with a lower VLT, like red or blue, would be best for sunny days.

Are polarized ski goggles worth it?

Four reasons why I believe that polarized ski goggles are worth the price: 1. Polarized ski goggles will prevent headaches and tired eyes from the sun. 2. Polarized ski goggles will better contrast so you’ll be able to ski objects easier, especially in bright conditions. 3. Polarized ski goggles will decrease glare from the sun. 4. Some polarized goggles even come with UV protection. These are typically the higher-end ones!

How long should my ski goggles last?

Ideally, your ski goggles could last 5-8 years. Realistically, though, they’ll probably last closer to 4 or 5 years. You can increase their life expectancy by keeping them in their case or goggle bag when you aren’t wearing them and not touching the inside of the lenses. If you’re looking for goggles and want to make sure they’re the right ones for you, chat with me or one of my fellow Winter Sports experts here on Curated.

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