As an outdoor sport, skiing depends not just on our ability and experience, but also on weather conditions and suitable equipment. I’m an avid skier myself and have been wondering how gear, even less obvious components than the skis themselves, would affect performance on the slopes.
Skiing in bad weather
Bob Smith, founder of Smith Optics, was an orthodontist and a keen skier from Sun Valley, Idaho. He loved skiing, but he had a problem: when the clouds and snow came in, visibility was bad and people didn’t want to go skiing. Bob didn’t want to be held back by bad weather, so he applied his scientific mind to the problem.
In 1965 Bob Smith developed ‘the first sealed thermal lens and breathable vent foam goggles’. He used double lenses sandwiching an airspace to create a thermal barrier, a bit like double glazing, and vents to allow airflow past the lens. These features reduced fogging of the lens, which meant he could see better and so ski even in bad weather.
Specialised lenses for ski goggles
Since then, new technologies and innovations have brought even better clarity and vision for skiers. Advanced polarized lenses like Smith’s Chromopop ease the glare on bright sunny days. Colour tuning is used to control light transmission and improve contrast, such as in Oakley Prizm lenses or Sungod’s 4KOptics. Photochromic lenses, such as Julbo’s REACTIV, respond to levels of ultraviolet light and change tint within 20-30 seconds to give greater protection when you need it.
Increasing the field of view in ski goggles
A recent trend is goggles getting bigger to increase the field of view. First came frameless designs. Then, in 2019, Smith introduced their 4D MAG goggles, which were the first ever to include curvature at the bottom of the lens, increasing the field of view by 25%.
To test this principle for myself, I tried the new Sungod Vanguard goggles, which are huge but effective. The frame is wider and extends lower on the cheeks so that both peripheral and vertical vision is enhanced. The lens shape is also cylindrical rather than spherical, so it sits tighter to the face to further increase the field of view. I was aware of much more in my peripheral vision compared with a framed design.
But can these better goggles improve my skiing?
I asked Dr Matthew Timmis, an expert in the role that vision plays in controlling human movement from the School of Psychology & Sport Science, Anglia Ruskin University, U.K.
“A wider field of view could improve balance,” says Timmis. “We know that the peripheral vision is important for motion detection and is used to regulate balance and postural control. It is theoretically possible that a wider field of view could improve balance.”
Timmis says that vision is of paramount importance to successful sporting performance, especially in fast paced tasks, such as skiing and ball sports such as cricket or soccer. However, research consistently shows that elite athletes do not have superior visual abilities. It is not that they can see further or clearer. Rather, they are simply better at using the information available to them to make decisions. He explains: “This is often found through adaptations in their visual search behaviour and the prior experiences that they have in predicting what will happen during the task or scenario.”
So, while your fancy new goggles could indeed improve your skiing by improving your balance (as well as your confidence), so too would more practice and experience. So, let’s get out on the slopes more!