Spectacular mountain scenery helps draw newcomers to skiing and snowboarding. Seeing an amazing vista on a clear day makes for pure pleasure. Not seeing a treacherous slope on a stormy day makes for pure pain. The correct ski goggle lenses are crucial in both situations.

Consider examples of summit elevation such as Snowbird Resort in Utah at 11,000 feet and Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin Ski Area at 13,050 feet. The thin air means UV protection for your eyes is a must. Virtually all snow goggles on the market offer 100 percent UV protection, but they vary in terms of VLT, or visible light transmission.

VLT is listed by manufacturers as a percentage. For instance, a goggle lens for sunny days might have a 15-percent VLT that allows only 15 percent of the sunlight through the lens. Mirror finishes tend to knock down the VLT by a few more percentage points, so many bright-light lenses have such finishes. A goggle lens for overcast days generally has a VLT up around 70 percent.

Ski Goggle Lens: Smith Optics I/O Recon

Photo Credit: Smith Optics

As the name says, VLT measures visible light, so invisible UV rays are not affected by the VLT percentage. In other words, lighter tinted snow goggles offer just as much UV protection as darker tinted goggles.

Colorado likes to brag about its 300 or more days of sunshine a year. Although this round number looks good in a tourism brochure, the National Weather Service puts its official annual sunny-day figure at 245 by its tougher definition. The more impressive total of 300 also includes days that are sunny for only part of the day. At the high elevations of Front Range locales such as Winter Park Resort and Loveland Ski Area, mornings often start sunny, but clouds move in during the afternoon. Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia is famous for varying conditions at different elevations on the same trip down the enormous vertical drop of 5,280 feet.

Changing weather and conditions can make goggle selection tricky, so manufacturers have devised various solutions. For example, the I/O series from Smith Optics is designed to easily switch out lenses. Uvex offers “take off” models with a second magnetic lens that can be added in bright sunlight. (As an interesting side note, the Uvex company name comes from “ultraviolet excluded.”) Photochromic, also known as photochromatic, lenses can adjust to the brightness conditions. Julbo Optics makes a goggle lens that changes in a VLT range from 16 to 80 percent.

Ski Goggle Lens: Julbo Optics Orbiter Goggles

Photo Credit: Julbo Optics

Along with VLT, the other major consideration for a goggle lens is tint. Dark brown tints are most commonly used for sunny days. For storm days, or just overcast, flat-light conditions, most skiers and boarders find yellow or rose tints with a high VLT of 70 percent or more add the most definition to the terrain. Night skiers generally use clear lenses.

Goggles may sometimes be an afterthought in the equipment lineup. However, the line “seeing is believing” definitely applies to their importance.

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Sub-Categories Beginners / Clothing and Gear / Equipment & Gear / Ski / Snowboard

3 responses to “Ski Goggle Lens: How to Pick the Right One”

  1. Chrisizup says:

    Checking out some goggles and they list “Sun Filter CAT 3” No VLT rating(Polarlens, available on Amazon). The goggles look good and have decent reviews and they are inexpensive there, compared to list price and other goggles. Any idea on the CAT 3?

  2. Eric Wagnon says:

    I’m not familiar with that Polarlens brand, so I’m not sure what they mean. However, I know Julbo has a similar system and their Cat. 3 corresponds to a VLT of 8-18%. Just based on the Polarlens pictures on Amazon, that looks about right for it too. Of course, that translates into best performance on a sunny day.

  3. Frank V. Pearsall says:

    Great post Eric,

    Very in-depth and really helpful, thanks for writing this and making my choice in buying my next ski goggles easier 🙂

    Frank V.

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