Should You Wear Goggles or Sunglasses for Snowboarding?

What should you wear to protect your eyes while on the snow? Snowboard Expert Kristina Spencer breaks down your options in this article.

A woman stands and looks back at the camera while carrying a red snowboard and reflective goggles. The landscape around her is totally white and snowy.

Photo by Hamish Duncan

Published on

Most people wear either sunglasses or ski goggles while on the slopes. With so many different styles and colors of eyewear available, at first glance, you might think they're more for fashion than for practicality. However, they are actually just as important as wearing a helmet.

Why Protect Your Eyes?

Cars and airplanes originally didn't have windshields. People were so used to driving around in slow wagons that the manufacturers didn't think about installing windshields. People figured out pretty quickly, though, that they needed to protect their eyes from flying objects and the blowing wind. Think of snowboarding goggles and sunglasses as a windshield for your face while you snowboard.

When you are just strolling around town or are out on a hike, you aren't going to worry about the wind or debris flying at your face. However, once you get on a snowboard and start flying down the hill, you will be going at a much faster pace and will notice a huge difference. The average snowboarder can cruise around the mountain at 25 miles per hour, while the experts can ride at speeds between 45 and 60 miles per hour.

Even while driving a car at 25 miles per hour, your eyes would protest if you didn't have that windshield in front of you. So why not wear eye protection while snowboarding to give yourself a better experience while riding? Here’s a list of examples of the hazards your eyes might encounter while on the slopes.

  • Tree branches — these hurt if you take one to the face!
  • Powder on an epic day.
  • Simply the wind in your face will make you want to close your eyes (please, please don't close your eyes while snowboarding).
  • The sun reflecting off the snow.

Snow Blindness

The higher up in altitude you get, the stronger the UV rays get. For every 1,000 feet in elevation above sea level, UV rays increase by two to four percent, which means the UV rays are 20% stronger in Denver, Colorado, than at sea level; quite a few ski resorts are a lot higher in elevation than Denver.

While out in the summer sun, it's common knowledge to wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the UV rays that cause a painful sunburn. Did you know you can sunburn your eyes while up on the ski slopes? A sunburn on your eyes is called snow blindness, and while it is only a temporary condition, it is extremely painful and you will be temporarily unable to see well because of it. Wearing sunglasses or goggles will prevent snow blindness from occurring. Some symptoms of snow blindness are:

  • Eye pain
  • A burning or gritty sensation in the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision
  • Seeing halos around light sources
  • Swollen eyes and eyelids
  • Headache

Sunglasses or Goggles?

A man jumps on a snowboard while wearing black sunglasses.

Photo by Colin Lloyd

So, you've figured out that you need to wear something to cover your eyes while you're snowboarding, but will sunglasses be good enough? In some circumstances, sunglasses will be just fine and in other situations, goggles would be better. Read below to help narrow down when you should wear sunglasses or goggles.

What To Consider Before Choosing Sunglasses

  • What time of the season is it? In the early or late part of the season, the weather is much warmer and sunglasses can be cooler on your face.
  • Are you the type of person to get overheated? If you are, then you might prefer to wear sunglasses more often than goggles.
  • Try on your sunglasses with your helmet at home before you head to the mountain. Some helmets will cause the sunglasses to dig into the sides of your head and give you an awful headache by the end of the day.
  • Do you need to wear prescription glasses or else risk running into things? If this is you, then your prescription sunglasses would be best unless you buy prescription goggles or contacts.

What To Consider Before Choosing Goggles

  • If it is a cold day, consider using goggles. When you wear a helmet, goggles, and a buff or balaclava, your whole face will be covered and frostbite will stay away. Even though they’re warmer than sunglasses, goggles have vents on them to prevent your eyes from sitting in a sauna all day on the slopes.
  • If you’re snowboarding when it is snowing, little snowflakes have a tendency to get blown up over the tops and sides of your sunglasses. By wearing goggles, your eyes have a solid barrier that the snow can't get through.
  • If you are worried about losing or breaking your favorite pair of sunglasses, then goggles would be a good choice. All goggles come with a strap that fits around your head or your helmet to hold them snugly on your face.

Goggle Technology

Melissa Riitano looks off camera and smiles while wearing goggles.

Melissa Riitano for K2. Photo by O'Malley

Goggles are way more high-tech than your average pair of sunglasses. Not only do they provide UV protection, but they also have some pretty amazing advances built into the lenses and the frames.

  • Lens Color: Most snow goggles will come with different lenses for the changing conditions on the snow. Some options include a dark lens for bright and sunny days, a light, rose, or yellow lens for cloudy and snowy days, and a clear lens for night boarding.
  • Lens Type: Cylindrical lenses are the most common and least expensive type of goggle. They have a flat lens that wraps around the front of your face. Spherical lenses cost more but give you a wider field of view and the best peripheral vision, as compared to cylindrical lenses. The spherical lens looks similar to a bubble over your eyes, kind of like a helicopter cockpit instead of a car windshield.
  • Anti-Fog Coating: With anti-fog coating, you won’t have to worry about not being able to see when you're bundled up for the cold but your breath fogs your goggles. If your goggles do not come with an anti-fog coating, you can easily purchase an anti-fog liquid at your local optometrist.
  • Prescription Goggles: If wearing contacts is not an option for you, prescription lenses for your goggles are available from some goggle manufacturers.
  • Contrast and Depth Perception: Goggle companies such as Smith, Spy, Dragon, and Oakley all make lenses that enhance your visibility on the slopes. This technology increases your ability to see the colors and changes in the snow’s features for a better riding experience. If you feel like you have trouble distinguishing the small changes in the snow, as I do, then these goggles would be a great choice for you.

For answers to common questions regarding goggles, check out this Q&A article!

Which Is Best?

Goggles are head and shoulders above sunglasses when it comes to usefulness and comfort on the ski slopes, but how do you know which brand is the best for you? Each goggle brand puts a lot of time and effort into making the best snowboarding goggle available on the market. There are so many similar technologies between the companies that it can be hard to choose just one as the best one. I would recommend talking with a Curated Expert to narrow down exactly what you are looking for in your snowboarding goggles and find the perfect fit.

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Written By
Kristina Spencer
Kristina Spencer
Snowboard Expert
In college I was a ski and snowboard instructor in Colorado, focusing mostly on little kids (aka 5-10 year old mini rippers or 3-4 year old tiny skiers). Sometimes I'd get those amazing lessons that would allow me to have a fun day of riding all over the mountain, but sadly those riders don't usuall...
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