With the prevalence of helmets, the most popular eyewear for skiing has quickly become goggles. The most common approach these days is to just leave them on the helmet, and just wear them no matter what the weather is like. But is this always the best option? Not necessarily.
To decide which is best, I watched the group of people I know who spend the most time in the deep snow, bright sun, and variable conditions of mountain weather: The Ski Guides of CMH.
Here’s what I learned:
- Some guides wear goggles almost all the time while skiing, but carry sunglasses for the brightest days, lunch, and relaxing.
- Some guides carry goggles as well as two pairs of glasses, one with dark lenses for bright conditions and one with yellow lenses for flat light conditions - skiing first in flat light is one of the big challenges of guiding, and the right eyewear makes a huge difference.
- And some guides, like CMH Cariboos Manager, John Mellis, love their glasses. I can’t blame him. Glasses just feel better, allow better peripheral vision, and give more sensitivity to the lovely mountain world.
- Johnny wears glasses when the face shots approach neck deep:
- Then leaves them on when the face shots start wrapping around his head:
- And even when the face shots reach meaty double-overhead levels, Johnny still rips in his glasses:
- But sometimes, when it’s snowing really hard, Johnny finally breaks out the goggles:
Here are the problems with goggles:
- If you tend to overheat, even the best-designed goggles will fog up.
- Goggles don’t handle bright conditions as well as glasses.
- Goggles are not as comfortable as glasses.
- Goggles tend to restrict your vision more.
- Goggle lenses are not as versatile as glasses.
- For uphill ski touring or boot packing, goggles are too warm.
Here are the problems with glasses:
- Glasses don’t shed the face shots as readily.
- Not all helmets fit well with glasses.
- Glasses don’t keep your face warm.
- Glasses fall off easier when you fall.
- Glasses don't protect your face as well.
If you are going to carry extra eyewear while Heli-Skiing or anywhere in the backcountry, be sure to time your changes without causing other skiers to wait (or worry) for you, and without filling your glasses and goggles with snow in the process. If you would rather keep it simple while Heli-Skiing, just wear goggles and choose a lens in the middle of the hue spectrum - not too dark and not too bright.
Like so many questions about the mountains, the right answer is: It depends on conditions.
Malam Jabba, Pakistan’s only ski area, was utterly destroyed by the Taliban in 2008. However, an enterprising group of locals rigged a makeshift ski lift on the Malam Jabba ski hill and this week are celebrating skiing with a week-long festival of competitions and fun called Skiing for Peace.
Malam Jabba lies in an area renowned for natural beauty, tucked into the scenic Swat region between the mighty Hindu Kush and Karakoram ranges. Skiing, like dancing, is considered illegal by the Taliban. To ensure no sinful schussing, the Taliban destroyed the base area and the ski lift to the point that no sign of the lift remained; the base area is a hulking ruin.
But skiing has survived. With the Taliban ousted from Swat the skiers are trying again. Someone rigged a ski lift with a recycled motor, and some ski gear is homemade with skis made from wooden boards with old shoes nailed to them and sticks of wood for poles. Lucky skiers get their hands on real skis. Even 1960s ski technology is cutting edge in Malam Jabba.
Matee Ullah Khan runs the country’s only ski school, using it’s 15 pairs of battered skis to teach people to ski. In an article in the BBC, Khan explains that he sees skiing as an important part of the health of mountain people. In the BBC article he's quoted as saying:
"It keeps you alive - especially the spring skiing when the temperature starts to warm, and the snow starts melting, but at night the temperature falls and frozen ice crystals form on the top layer of the snow. When you start sliding down it in the early morning, breaking that ice, it produces a very good sound and you can feel it down your skis. We say that having one run on this spring snow makes you young for a year."
Kahn's may be the best words ever spoken about skiing...
For now, skiing in Malam Jabba will remain a ramshackle endeavor. The cost of rebuilding the resort has been determined by the government to be not worth the small volume of tourism it would bring to the area. Perhaps visionaries like Matee Ullah Khan will keep skiing alive in Pakistan long enough to see the area once again become a ski destination.
I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more moving story about skiing, nor have I ever felt luckier to live where I do. I’ve skied enough spring snow to make me feel young for several lifetimes, and am free to dance and ski to my heart’s content. Kahn should be inducted into Skiing's Halls of Fame, and somehow we should send hundreds of pairs of used skis, boots and poles to Malam Jabba.
"The children of the area are very happy that we are skiing again. It's a good message that peace has been restored or is being restored in Malam Jabba," says Kahn in the BBC article.
That says it all. I think my next dream ski trip will be in honor of the skiers of Malam Jabba.
How lucky are we? Photo of Heli-Skiing in Canada at CMH Bobbie Burns by Topher Donahue.
A montage of deep powder skiing’s most influential innovations would have to include three things: Klaus Obermeyer fashioning the first down jacket out of a duvet in a cloud of feathers, Shane McConkey mounting ski bindings on waterskis to prove that rockered ski technology was going to be part of the future of skiing, and orthodontist Bob Smith and his wife sitting at their kitchen table with dental tools making the world’s first double-lens ski goggles.
In April, Bob Smith passed away, leaving a legacy of happy powder skiers who can actually see while skiing in deep powder. In 1965, the same year CMH Heli-Skiing began offering the world’s first heliskiing in the Bugaboos, Bob Smith founded Smith Sport Optics.
His double lens is now the standard in ski goggles, since the inner lens can stay warm with the heat from the skiers face, and the outer lens can remain at the temperature of the outside air, much reducing the fogging problem that was prevalent in single lens models. Airplane windows have a similar design to avoid fogging with the extreme temperature difference inside and outside the plane.
While skiing in Utah’s legendary powder, Smith was frustrated by not being able to see, so he decided to make his own. His double lens solution worked wonders, and now Smith Sport Optics, which he sold in 1991, is North America’s biggest goggle manufacturer and the double lens design is copied worldwide.
Like most ski innovators Bob was a ski bum at heart and he traded his first goggles for lift tickets. Bob Smith’s first goggles were vented between the lenses, which work well in moderately deep powder.
But in the bottomless, over-the-head powder of CMH Heli-Skiing and other backcountry areas, the vents tend to eventually let moisture creep between the lenses. This moisture is then difficult to remove, so most ski guides recommend sealed double lenses, also built by Smith, for heli-skiing North America’s snowiest mountains around Revelstoke, BC.
With so many innovations that make skiing so much more fun for so many more people, it begs the question: What will be next?
Photo of a pickup at CMH Kootenay through Smith goggles by Topher Donahue.
Over the years, the CMH million foot program has gone through many changes. The original dinner jackets turned out to be completely inefficient as ski wear and so the design later turned to one piece suits- the ultimate in snow protection. In recent years, we have transitioned to the traditional blue Arc’teryx Jacket with black pants which allows for sufficient ventilation of flatulant gasses, as well as increased versatility in the restroom.
For the 2013 season, we have decided to review our million foot suit program to take it to the next level. We are living in a digital era; everyone is now skiing with Gopro cameras, cellphones, boot heaters, hand heaters, gps goggles, and an array of other electronic devices. It would only make sense that our leading skiers would be wearing the leading styles in outerwear.
During out brainstorming session for what the next generation million foot suit would be, we were shown this clip by one of our vendors:
At first, everyone was skeptical. But once we thought about it, and how much of a fantastic achievement skiing 1 million vertical feet really is, we decided to explore the options. As it turns out, the LED application can be applied to our existing Arc'teryx jackets, to provide the ultimate in mountain function and flash. The thin LED shell feels no different to the person wearing it, and adds that extra level of "look at me".
We will be setting up our drying rooms at the lodge with charging stations, so that every million footer can be sure to have a fully charged suit each morning. The expected battery life is around 11 hours.
Marty Von Neudegg, is particularly excited about the new suits: “CMH is always on the leading edge of clothing technology for our environments. With so much of our skiing done in the trees, we felt that this suit will give our million foot guests the visual edge they need to see and be seen. And of course, in their home ski areas, everyone will know that they are a CMH Million Foot Skier…from three lifts away. It will certainly inspire conversation about CMH and what it means to wear one of our new Million Foot suits.”
Using L.E.D. Technology, these suits are the latest in technology fashion accessories. They still use the same goretex pro-shell technology to keep you warm and dry. The thin, lightweight, LED outer layer will act as a heat source, keeping you extra warm on those cold days. The LED’s can be turned off to conserve power during times of high natural light (eg. daytime)
“We are extremely excited about the possibilities of the new suits, after dark is a time that we have never been able to explore the great mountains in our areas.” This year, for the first time, CMH will be able to offer a week, exclusive to million footers with the new suits, where we will start skiing at 4pm, and ski well into the early morning hours. It will be the first exclusive night heli-skiing program offered. Because of the luminescence of our new suits, we will require no additional lighting. Each skier and boarder, lighting their own path down the mountain. We will of course have a specially lit guide’s suit, so that all of the night heli-skiers will have a reference to follow.
The first million foot night heli-ski trip will take place April 1, 2013, also known as april fools day 2013. What a big event for April 1! This year we will just stick with this article... which is a good enough april fools joke as is!