Many a ski day was ruined during my younger years while wearing the wrong eyewear on the slopes. A procession of cheap sunglasses and second-hand goggles left me with foggy vision and wind-battered, teary eyes whenever the weather turned foul.
Eventually, I gave up and put the money down for a pair of good goggles, realizing my time on skis would be greatly enhanced with appropriate eyewear. Indeed, the right goggles can improve your performance on the slopes. Blocking out bad weather is their No. 1 job. But the snow-optimized lenses found on any decent goggle will add substantial visual dimension and detail to the white, flatly-lit world that is a downhill ski run.
Earlier this season I tested new high-end goggles from Julbo Inc. and Zeal Optics. The Zeal Detonator ($130), which has a funky carbon-weave finish on the frame, incorporates a special polarized “photochromatic” lens that adjusts its tint in response to the current lighting conditions. The brighter the sun and the more glare off the snow, the darker the tint in the goggle lens.
They fit comfortably, with extra cushy foam around the frame and a snug strap that is compatible with a helmet or without. The wide lens provided great peripheral vision. Overall, I was impressed with the clarity and visual enhancement these goggles provided over a range of conditions.
Zeal also offers the photochromatic lens in its Aspect and Link models, which are essentially smaller versions of the Detonator. To boot, the company is currently throwing in a nice semi-hard case with the purchase of any of these three models.
Julbo, a 100-year-old company known for its mountaineering sunglasses, has stepped into the ski goggle market with the Excel ($115). It’s slightly smaller than the Zeal Detonator, so it’s better suited for people with smaller builds. The company guarantees fog-free and distortion-free vision with this model, and on the slopes they performed as promised.
While the Excel’s visual clarity was good, Zeal one-upped Julbo with the self-adjusting lens tint. I found the Excel’s foam to be a bit less comfy and cozy than the thicker, softer foam on the Zeal Detonator. Also, Julbo does not include a substantial case with the Excel, as it comes with just a cloth pouch.
But to Julbo’s favor, the company offers the Excel with a Category-4 lens, which is rated to protect eyes in extremely bright, high-altitude settings. The company claims the Excel is the only goggle on the North American market with a Category-4 lens option.