You head out onto the ski slopes one crisp winter’s morning and realize you’ve left your ski goggles back in your hotel room. There’s a queue for the rental equipment and you’re tempted to just head out onto the slopes to enjoy the fresh powder. Is it actually okay to go without your ski or snowboard goggles for a day?
Skiing or snowboarding without goggles increases the risk of snow blindness, UV damage and injury in case of an accident. Goggles protect you from cold and the wind, and leaving your eyes exposed increases your risk of both impaired vision in the short term, as well as long term damage to your eyes.
These risks vary depending on the weather conditions. Whether you’re an advanced skier or just starting out, we’ll explore all you need to know about the pros and cons of skiing without goggles so that you can make an informed decision next time you’re considering this.
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What Happens If I Ski Without Goggles?
For me, ski (or snowboard) goggles are not optional (although you can technically not use them).
There are a bunch of reasons that are technical, but to put it plainly, most of the time it’s just too cold to ski without ski goggles.
When you’re rushing downhill anywhere from 10-20 mph (or more if you’re an advanced skier), the sharp cold winds on your face makes it so your eyes water instantly. Your eyes are a sensitive organ, and to have that cold wind blasted in your face is absolutely miserable without goggles. Not to mention factoring in the wind on the mountain that you’re on (there’s pretty much always some kind of wind up that high).
Now past the fact that if you go without goggles, you will think of nothing else except how you wish you had them, there are some safety concerns:
Safety Concerns Of Going Without Ski / Snowboard Goggles
Skiing without goggles leaves your eyes exposed to the elements, and increases your risk of UV damage, snow blindness, exposure to the harsh mountain elements and potential damage in the case of accidents.
Just like your skin can get sunburned, so can your eyes, a condition known as photokeratitis. Particularly in the mountains, where there is 50% more UV radiation than at sea level due to the higher altitude. You might not have thought about it, but because of the snow, you are getting all those dangerous sunrays reflected into your eyes.
50-90% of UV radiation reflects off snow, meaning that any exposed body parts, including your eye area, is subject to the effects of UV damage. This reflection can cut through cloud and fog, so no matter what the weather is, you are still at risk when in the mountains.
This exposure can cause snow blindness, which just means your eyes are overwhelmed from the bright white for extended periods of time and you lose some of your seeing ability. This however, in the short term, can be treated with eye drops and usually goes away within 24-48 hours. (source for more info)
Long term exposure to snow without eye protection, however, can cause damage such as cataracts and other eye problems. Luckily, most ski goggles have built-in UV protection, so wearing them can protect the eyes and skin around the eyes from the intensity of the UV radiation.
Cold Wind = Watery Eyes
The cold and wind can impair your vision significantly on the slopes. Even if there is no wind, the speed at which you go down a slope can cause enough movement of air for your eyes to become watery and your vision blurred.
The extreme cold often prevalent in good ski conditions has a similar effect, and can constrict the blood vessels in our eyes or freeze the cornea, both of which are painful and can result in loss of vision.
Not only this, but should it be snowing, raining or foggy, moisture on your eyelashes can freeze without eye protection, which is not only uncomfortable, but can also hinder your vision. Particularly when skiing around other people, this is not only a danger to yourself, but to those around you who you could end up crashing into.
Ski or snowboard goggles provide protection against the elements. They are sealed by foam or padding around the edges to regulate the temperature underneath them, protecting the eyes and not fogging up to impair vision.
Other Eye Injuries
There are a multitude of ways in which injuries can happen on a ski slope. Goggles are one of the items of protective gear, similar to helmets, that can protect your eyes on the slopes.
Not only can they protect your eyes from an injury if you have an accident with another person and get a ski or pole hitting your face, but also against snow, rocks and branches. The goggles act as a tough outer layer, protecting the delicate skin around the eyes from potentially permanent damage.
These risks may vary according to the weather conditions in their degree of exposure, but all still exist, regardless of your level of skiing, or even whether you are doing other snow sports.
Ski goggles are an essential form of protection and designed to fit comfortably with your helmet and other ski gear.
Can I Wear Sunglasses Instead Of Ski Goggles? (Or Other Alternatives)
You may be wondering whether you could wear sunglasses instead of ski goggles, or even whether the regular glasses that you wear for vision correction can replace goggles.
The short answer is no. While regular glasses or sunglasses are better than nothing, they are not good enough to replace your ski goggles.
The long answer is that if you had no other option, such as if you forgot your goggles but you had sunglasses on and you are already at the top of the lift, then, yes, goggles or eyeglasses are going to offer some protection.
Some sunglasses offer UV protection, but because they aren’t sealed, their degree of protection against the cold and wind are somewhat limited.
In addition to this, depending on the material they are made from, they can shatter on impact in an accident and may not provide the same degree of resistance that ski goggles do. If they are not UV resistant, they also are unlikely to provide enough protection for good visibility and you will still feel like it is very bright to look at the snow.
Corrective glasses offer little in terms of protection from UV rays and from the elements, and in case of an accident could actually cause more harm than protection. If you need to wear glasses and they aren’t comfortable under ski goggles, your best options are to either get prescription ski goggles, or to wear contact lenses under your regular goggles.
Another problem with using sunglasses and eyeglasses is that this eyewear isn’t strapped to your head the same way goggles are–if you crash, you’re going to lose them and you may not ever find them, again.
I’ve had some crashes where even my goggles fell off–so any other eyewear you’re definitely at risk of losing them.
Which Type of Goggles Should I Get?
Worried about the risks of skiing without goggles but not sure how to find the right pair of goggles that will offer you maximum protection? Here are a few tips that will help you when shopping for your next pair of goggles.
- On bright days when the sun is out, your goggles should have a lens that is mirrored silver, grey, black, or red.
- On cloudy days with ‘flat’ light or when visibility isn’t great, use goggles with a pink, yellow, gold, amber or brown lens. These will help you in defining the contrast on the snow that is hard to make out otherwise.
- For a pair of goggles that will work when partly cloudy and partly sunny, blue, green or red lenses are a good choice.
- Many brands sell lenses that you can easily clip in and out, allowing you to get more than one color, and keep an extra lens in your jacket pocket in case the weather changes during the day!
- Visible Light Transmission (VLT) is often provided as a percentage by ski goggle manufacturers. It refers to the amount of light that the goggles let through them and is dependent on the color, material and thickness of the lenses. Generally, a lower VLT percentage is better for brighter days (it lets in less light) and higher VLT is better for cloudy days (it lets in more light).
- All ski goggles should be UV protected and sealed against the cold and wind, but with sufficient ventilation to prevent fogging.
Something to bear in mind is that it’s not all about the risks! In addition to mitigating certain risks, ski goggles also provide increased clarity of vision and contrast in your surroundings, depending on the filter that they have. This is particularly helpful in very bright or very cloudy weather, when the light affects your depth of perception and it can be hard to make out the contours of the snow.
Looking for ski gear? Perhaps you’re wondering how long your ski coat should be–we have an article on that in case you want to learn the ideal coat length.
Can I Ski At Night Without Goggles?
Night skiing is a popular activity on some mountains. While there is no risk of UV damage without the sun, in order to protect your eyes against the cold, wind, snow and accidents, goggles are still necessary.
It’s tempting to want to go without goggles while night skiing, but the air is even colder than the day and so they are still very important. You just might need to use a different pair of goggles to be able to see.
If you’re worried about not being able to see, many ski areas will have special lights on the sides of the slopes for better visibility during night skiing, but you can also choose goggles with clear or yellow lenses that don’t darken your vision as much. The measure of how much light passes through a lens is called “VLT” (visible light transmission). Choosing goggles with a high VLT percentage can help with accentuating contrasts in the snow and improve visibility.
If you are considering skiing without goggles, beware of the risks you are exposing yourself to. Not wearing ski/snowboard goggles can cause long-term damage to your eyes, but you are also putting yourself at risk short-term.
If you don’t have your own pair, they can be easily rented with the rest of your ski gear from local rental shops, otherwise they can be a quick and relatively inexpensive purchase that should last for a number of seasons, providing protection worth having!