You know those days when the light is flat when you’re out on the ski slopes? Annoying, right? You are cruising down the slopes, and bumps come out of nowhere because you have no way of seeing them. Gray on gray is hard to discern.
Not been able to see the slopes well can be frustrating, irritating, and even dangerous if you aren’t wearing a proper pair of flat light ski goggles to help overcome the conditions. This particular kind of goggle features special lenses (category 1 and category 2) which allows in more light in than you’ll get from typical ski goggles. Thanks to this awesome feature, they’ll amplify light, enhance contrast, and brighten everything up, allowing you to see the world around you more clearly. Cool, huh?
Skiing a tough slope in flat light is no place to use your basic, entry-level ski goggles. These are conditions where being able to see a little better could prevent an injury. We’re here to help you find and choose the best pair of flat light goggles to fit your needs.
Flat Light Ski Goggles Buying Guide
When you’re skiing in low light and snowy conditions, make sure to seek out a pair of specialized goggles sporting category 1 and category 2 lenses. These types of lenses offer much higher light transmission than regular ones and are typically termed ‘flat light’ ski goggles. The products we’re talking about are both perfect for mountain ski slopes and any other places where the light is flat. Makes sense, right?
Category 1 lenses feature 79-46% light transmission, are slightly tinted and highly recommended for skiing in flat or heavily overcast light conditions. Category 2 lenses offer 45-18% light transmission and are moderately tinted and most suitable for bright and brightly overcast conditions.
Type-wise, modern thermal lenses with dual layers are also the most helpful when you are looking to avoid fogging in flat light or otherwise. With their curved shapes and spherical lenses they provide you with enhanced peripheral vision, reduced glare, and less distortion.
Color-wise, flat light ski goggles with yellow, amber or gold lenses are ideal for flat light and snowy days. They are designed to enhance detail, therefore you’ll easily eye bumps and holes in the snow, will help you ski mogul, and spot the rough spots you want to avoid in flat light conditions. As well, they sharpen vision and filter out the snow’s brightness making the experience easier on your eyes. Persimmon or reddish lenses are another way to go, as they can jack up the contrast in flat light and also work well in brighter conditions. Also available are photochromic (or photochromatic) goggles which are able to lighten or darken according to the light conditions. Thus, in flat light they will also help you with accurate detail perception. A lens color to avoid in these conditions is black, as it can seriously impair your vision when it comes to flat light conditions or when skiing at night.
3 Great Flat Light Ski Goggles
With all this useful information in mind, it should be easier now to find the best pair of flat light ski goggles for your needs. Luckily, there’s a wide variety of such goggles out there, so all you have to do now is to choose the one that will be the best fit. To get you started, we’ve researched 3 of the best goggle available for you to check out:
Oakley Flight Tracker (with Prizm lens)
Oakley’s well-regarded Prizm line of optics is built-in to everything from glasses to ski goggles, and we think they are among the very best goggles for navigating flat light on the slopes. The Prizm lineup uses an advanced technology that will help you see everything that regular goggles won’t catch in flat light conditions – holes, bumps, and other otherwise hard to see details in the snow you’re skiing on. They are flawlessly engineered and allow you to enhance your performance across a greater range of lighting conditions – thus eliminating the need for you to purchase different goggles for each and every weather condition. Oakley promises that you will be able to see clearer, react faster, and race with confidence. Their lenses are especially fine-tuned for flat light and therefore considerably enhances visibility and contrast. These goggles provide you with unparalleled control of light transmission which results in colors precisely adapting to maximize contrast and improve visibility. The look pretty mean, too, with a nice wraparound design and a wide field of view. Find here on Amazon.
- Good value, relatively speaking
- Excellent field-of-vision
- Need to be sure you get the option w/ Prizm lens
- Not for people who prefer to swap-out their lenses for conditions
Smith I/O Goggles with Chromapop Lens
You can’t have a “best of” goggles list without including something from Smith’s lineup. The reliable and durable Smith I/O Goggles make it really easy to swap in their Chromapop lens, which is perfect for flat-light days. This lens allows you to judge the terrain in a much more accurate way, and Smith’s advanced anti-fog feature removes fogging problems that are so common as the goggles age. When we tested the Chromapop lens, we found an enhanced level of detail in the snow, even on cloudy days. In addition, these goggles are quite sturdy and have a strap that is easy to handle and comfortable to wear. The goggles come with two lenses, one for normal or partly-cloudy days, and the Chromapop for the flat-light days. You won’t want the Chromapop lens on sunny days, it will feel to bright for most people. Plus, Smith is a brand we trust when it comes to ski optics Find here on Amazon.
- Great all-around goggle
- Chromapop lens really performs well in heavy lower-light conditions
- Without the Chromopop lens, you don’t get low-light performance. Need to buy the right model.
Giro Axis Goggle with Vivid Infrared Lens
Designed for snowboarders, but good for all uses. Constructed from of top-notch materials, the Giro Axis Goggles have a lightweight, comfortable, and elegant full frame that will fit every style. The 2nd set of lenses that come with the goggles – the Infrared option — is the perfect choice when faced with flat light conditions. These lenses are made by Zeiss, an expert lens make for everything from cameras to binoculars. They know what they are doing. The Yellow lens has a high VLT offering increased contrast which makes it optimal for flat, low light conditions, in storms, and even night skiing. The Vivid lens give you additional contrast so you can see bumps or slick spots better. This lens option has a blue flash coating that enhances contrast and makes it a great candidate when choosing a pair of goggles perfect for flat light. Some actually say that the contrast is a little much if you are not in flat light, so there are great lenses to have on hand, along with your regular goggles for clear days. Find here on Amazon.
- Made specifically for snowboarding (but OK for any skiing)
- Excellent flat-light capabilities in the Infrared lens
- Skiing purists may choose a different option
What is Flat Light in Skiing?
Flat light on the slopes is caused by a convergence of light conditions. It usually happens on a slightly cloudy day or overcast day, one which has some type of filter between the sun and the ground, such as haze, fog, or perhaps light snow. That is enough to cause less light to come inside your goggles, but still create some illumination of the snow which can give your brain confusion. The lack of shadows eliminates contrast, which your brain relies on to judge the terrain. Counterintuitive is the fact that your eyes can often see better when conditions are heavy clouds, causing the snow to be less white and bright. A day of full sun, of course, is usually the best condition for seeing contrast in the snow.
There is also evidence that the effects are flat-light increase with age, as your eyes lose some of their ability to quickly adjust to conditions. Medical eye conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma also play a role in making the effects of flat light worse. However, on certain days, it tends to affect every skier and snowboarder on the entire mountain.
Why Do Cloudy Days Call for Different Ski Goggles?
Downhill skiing is primarily about two things: Finding your line (where you are going to ski) and then controlling yourself down the mountain. That second part takes a lifetime to learn, but the “finding your line” part is easier. However, when clouds create limited contrast on the snow – filtering the sunlight and making it hard to see ice, bumps, or drops – you are at a big disadvantage.
A cloudy day creates the flat light we have been talking about. A good pair of goggles basically helps you compensate. While note as good as having great light, the right goggles can help a ton.
What Else Should I Know About Flat Light in Skiing?
Skiing in flat light can be hazardous if you don’t do it right. All it takes is hitting a mogul that you didn’t see, and you could be airborne or twist a knee badly.
When skiing flat light, take it slower than normal. This might seem like obvious advice, but we see people going entirely too fast in low-light conditions. Be sure you have a helmet, no matter how good a skier you are. Concussions occur quickly, and you want a helmet for those wipeouts. Finally, perhaps a flat light day is not the right day to tackle that drop or chute that is at the very top of your skill level. Save it for when conditions are more ideal.
Are Some Goggles Better for Glasses-Wearers?
Yes. We did an entire piece on OTG ski goggles (OTG = over-the-glasses). You may want to check it out if you wear glasses while skiing. The bottom line is that some of these goggles for flat light conditions are also great for those who need to wear their glasses while skiing.
Paul Miller is the Founder of Family Skier. He is an advanced skier and has extensive experience with family travel and ski schools. An accomplished skier, he has skied in 15 states and provinces and 6 countries. In addition to FamilySkier, his writing can be found on many ski-related websites, and as curriculum for many ski clubs in North America.