How to order the perfect snowsport goggles

Mark Abma, Chris Rubens
Oversized lenses are one trend in snowsports goggles today. Photo: Courtesy of Smith

Today’s titanic choices in ski and snowboard goggles require some extra research before pulling the trigger. Gone are the days of buying fixed-lens frames right off the shelf. Now there are all kinds of considerations, such as how modern goggles will fit with your helmet and what kind of lens you want for different weather conditions.

I learned this the hard way. It had been a decade since I last bought goggles, and after ordering some stylie, petite Smith Virtues online, I tried my new specs on an absolute bluebird Colorado day. By evening my eyes were burning. Had I fried them? A quick Internet search showed my mistake: The Virtues’ blue sensor lenses were made for cloudy, low-light days only—the exact opposite of the day I used them on.

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The author (center) was elated with her new goggles until she realized the wrong lens had painful effects. Photo: Kailus

So you don’t make the same mistake next time you’re in the market for new goggles, I caught up with Joe Snyder, goggles category manager for Smith Optics. Here he breaks it all down:

Size matters. From the Olympics to local halfpipes, we’ve all seen the massive spreads skiers and riders are wearing on their faces these days. “The oversized trend is very popular right now,” says Snyder. Whether you like the look or not, the best practice is to try on goggles in person first to see how they fit your face and integrate with an existing helmet. One thing to note about the oversized lenses is that they can be deceiving. They may look large, but lens size is not indicative of the “face flange” fit of the product, or the size of the frame and components themselves.

Also, many brands make both goggles and helmets, which means new goggle technology is designed to fit optimally with helmets from the same maker. “Our goggles are designed specifically to integrate with Smith helmets,” Snyder says. “While most goggles will work well with Smith helmets, some of the current oversized models on the market are just too big to fit well with helmets.”

Helmet gap. Speaking of the finding the perfect match between goggles and lid, helmet gap is a critical consideration. How much is too much space between the top of a goggle frame and the edge of your helmet? “Anything more than a few millimeters of gap is going to diminish the user’s experience with cold spots, sunburn, and generally less protection,” says Snyder. “Helmet gap is typically an indication of the helmet not fitting properly or the goggle not fitting properly or the combination of the two not working together.”

Again, this is why it’s key to physically try on new goggles with your current helmet or consider buying a set from the same brand since, as in Smith’s technology, “goggle-frame geometry is designed to match up perfectly to the helmet geometry, eliminating gaps.”

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Choosing the best goggles is all about how they fit with your face and integrate with your helmet. Photo: Courtesy of Smith

Lens choices. Do you go for a universal lens for every condition or buy a pricier frame that you can change lenses on for every light condition? “Choosing the correct lens for the current conditions always provides the best lens performance,” says Snyder. All Smith’s interchangeable-series goggles ship with two lenses: one for sunny conditions and one for low-light and storming conditions. “Being able to choose between these options provides the ideal solution for changing conditions on snow,” Snyder continues.

However, there are plenty of people who’d prefer not to fiddle with change-outs or guess about the right lens for the day (err, me). That’s where new goggle technology really shines. All-around lens tints like Smith’s Photochromic Red Sensor mirror lens, which is what I now use, actually changes VLT (visible light transmission) with changing light conditions throughout the day, meaning when it is sunny and bright the lens becomes a darker tint (around 20 percent VLT) and when conditions turn stormy and dark the lens tint lightens (to around 50 percent VLT). And that’s just cool.

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New goggle technology allows a single lens tint to adjust with varying light conditions throughout the day. Photo: Courtesy of Smith

Comfort factor. Speaking of cool, modern goggles really ramp up in the style category, but if they look slick but don’t feel good in action, don’t waste your money. Be aware of how goggles fit and cinch at the temple, nose, and strap line. Are they pushing down on your nose? Do they give you a headache? Is there air leaking at the outer edge of the frame? Goggles are designed with different fits and face shapes in mind. Again, here’s where it pays to try before you buy.

Most goggle makers are showcasing a variety of different fits and styles for small and large faces, or even women’s-specific models, in addition to huge variation in lens, strap, and frame styles. If you must order online without trying on the goggle, follow specific brand guidelines for recommended fits. Smith, for example, has dialed in their designs—“medium” fit or “women’s small” fit—by both head/face size and sex. “With 50 years of goggle experience, we have identified the historical shapes and sizes that accommodate most customers,” Snyder says.

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