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Goggles vs glasses for backcountry skiing


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:sunglasses for skiing
  • Then leaves them on when the face shots start wrapping around his head:sunglasses for powder skiing
  • And even when the face shots reach meaty double-overhead levels, Johnny still rips in his glasses:sunglasses vs goggles
  • But sometimes, when it’s snowing really hard, Johnny finally breaks out the goggles:goggle day

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.


in the early 70's i used to ski with bob smith -smith goggles. he was creating today's powder goggles. he'd make them in his garage and bring them to the bugs for the guides and a few others to try out. i always fogged them up because i'm a sweat pig, so he put in a fan which i fogged up as well. he finally gave up on me and said i was his only failure. i still use his goggles today for driving my small fishing boat on cold days, going duck hunting on the quad, working in the yard with the weed wacker, etc. bob passed away not too long ago and he doesn't get enough credit for creating what most of the powder hounds use as a must have item.
Posted @ Friday, May 17, 2013 10:49 AM by larry deane
I didn't know Johnny ever used goggles! 
When heli-skiing, I use a high quality photo chromatic lens in my goggles and sunglasses (both happen to be made by Zeal). These work very well for changing light conditions and flat light. I pretty much use goggles all the time when I'm skiing for the protection they provide. And I keep them on, even in the helicopter, as this keeps them from fogging (at least for me). Then I use my sunglasses during lunch or when waiting for the machine to refuel.
Posted @ Friday, May 17, 2013 11:43 AM by Brad Nichols
I wear prescription glasses and so use an 'Over the glasses goggle'. I used to have a terrible time with fogging. No treatment on the glasses seemed to work for long, if at all. For our last CMH trip I bought a pair of googles with a small fan - they worked amazingly well for me. Like Brad, I keep them on the helicopter. I'll get to re-test my goggles next year at the Bugaboos. February seems a long way off !!
Posted @ Saturday, May 18, 2013 1:57 AM by Peter Forrester
I think,both are nice to use but still depends on your ski area. I usually used prescription glasses. But I sometimes wear my goggles when it's needed,like when it's raining very hard/
Posted @ Wednesday, June 05, 2013 1:51 AM by feonicamartinez
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