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How to make the right ski eyewear choice
For anyone going skiing, snowboarding or even walking at high altitude it’s essential to wear goggles or good quality UV400 rated sunglasses because on mountains the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays are easily underestimated, with a high risk of sunburn and ultimately skin cancer (including cancer of the eyelids) and eye cataracts. Because mountain air is cool, it gives a false sense of security about the sunlight. But the higher the altitude, the greater the ultraviolet radiation (UVR), because there is less atmosphere to screen out the harmful rays. Research has shown that eyes can receive up to 2.5 times more UVR on mountains than at sea level. Even when the eyes are turned away from the sun, they can still get over 85 per cent more UVR on snow. This can cause conditions such as photokeratitis (snow blindness), which can lead to inflammation and cataracts.
As the eye cannot see UVR, good quality goggles and sunglasses have an important function in blocking UVR. Wearing cheap eyewear with no UV filters poses an even greater danger than wearing none at all because the pupils will dilate allowing more harmful rays into the eye. So always ensure the goggles or sunglasses you buy are UV400 rated providing the maximum protection from harmful UVR and are CE marked. It’s also worth noting that the lens colour and tint has nothing to do with the UV protection as the UV filter applied to lenses is actually clear. So lighter coloured lenses like orange and rose can still be UV400 rated.
Goggles or sunglasses?
20 years ago more skiers wore sunglasses than goggles but the huge growth of snowboarding coupled with greater awareness of the risk of head damage has meant the opposite now applies – the majority wear goggles. By necessity helmets are worn by all snow boarders and more progressive, accomplished skiers tackling challenging snow runs and going off-piste. And helmets and goggles go together.
But skiers that are not intending to tackle black runs all day and are content with more “sedate” skiing can quite happily get by with good quality sunglasses. And the ‘enclosed’ feel of goggles doesn’t suit everyone. But even at moderate speed cold wind can cause the eyes to water so it’s worth looking out for full frame (not half frame) models that are close fitting and wrap-around style to keep out wind and sun glare and prevent UVR from coming in over the top and sides of the lenses.
Skiing lens tints & colours
This can be confusing but the following is a general guide applying to goggles and sunglasses. At high altitude (above 2000 metres) glare can be intense with a high risk of photokeratitis (snow blindness) so it’s worth ensuring you have Category 4 grey or brown dark lenses (we have several Category 4 models in the ski sunglasses section).
At lower levels it really depends on the conditions: in bright sunny conditions with clear skies, grey or brown (Category 3) lenses are good and polarised lenses will also help as they minimise the glare that reflects off the piste surface.
In cloudy, dull and overcast conditions and when there is “flat light”; orange, rose, yellow-amber or vermilion lenses will be preferable. Some models of goggles and sunglasses have interchangeable lenses that will typically include a dark lens and light lens to cope with all weather conditions.
Mirror coatings to lenses are also worth considering as they further limit light exposure that could cause photokeratitis on bright, sunny days.