Buying Right: Wraparound Ski Shades

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Review: Hardware and Software, January 1997

Buying Right: Wraparound Ski Shades

By Andrew Tilin

No ski sunglasses will liberate you from wearing goggles, but wraparounds get close. Now it really has to be dumping before I exchange a pair of cool specs for bulky eye protection fit for a welder.

Wraps were born of the desire to enjoy the wide, sheltered view of a sport shield in a hipper, lighter package. The frames curve around your head to provide better peripheral vision and form a tighter seal over your eyes than conventional sunglasses, keeping out wind and spindrift almost as well as goggles. Only when you work up a sweat and then pause for too long do wraps show their weakness: They can fog.

Aside from a snug but comfortable fit, the biggest concern in choosing shades is lenses. They should block 100 percent of the sun's ultraviolet rays--both UVA and UVB--and 80 to 90 percent of visible light. Gray and amber tints don't misrepresent the world's colors, while rose and yellow hues crank up contrast, making them the best choices for skiing under cloudy skies. Glass is more expensive and breakable than polycarbonate, but it also resists scratches better and offers superior clarity. Coatings, mirror treatments, and polarizing filters generally cut glare but jack up the price. Finally, look for sturdy nylon or plastic frames with metal hinges.

The Boll‹ Mamba ($85; 800-554-6686) keeps the world comfortably dim with its narrow, coated, gray polycarbonate lenses. It's not designed to seal out the elements quite like some wraps, but it's also the most svelte shade of the bunch: At less than an ounce, the Mamba is light enough to mail with a 32-cent stamp. On the other hand, the frame of Oakley's Trenchcoat ($100; 714-951-0991) holds big, dark, gray polycarbonate lenses and leaves no gaps around your face. The view is impressively clear. Unfortunately, the stiff temples clamped my skull like lobster claws, and the hinges are plastic. For $60, it's hard to find fault in the Scott Moon Ray (208-622-1000). Its gray polycarbonate lenses are a nice medium for both sunny and cloudy days, and rubbery nosepieces give the Moon Ray true grip. Smith's Slider SL2 ($85; 800-459-4903) takes a different approach to modifying light, with three interchangeable sets of polycarbonate lenses: brown, yellow, and clear. All have full UV protection, but eye coverage is on the lean side. Hobie's Phantom ($118; 800-554-4335) continues a company tradition of shades employing polarized lenses. The film applied to the polycarbonate cuts down spring-skiing glare, while the amber tint isn't too dark for skiing in shade. Suncloud's Incline ($140; 800-344-8815) uses highly protective, polarized, rose-tinted lenses set in nylon frosted-crystal frames. The Incline is certainly mod, but I have one niggling complaint: When the sun illuminates the translucent frame, it creates a distracting glare.

If it's glass you want, you'd be hard pressed to put your eyes behind anything clearer than lenses from Nikon or Revo. The glass in Nikon's Outbound ($120; 800-645-6687) represents the company's low end, yet I couldn't muster any complaints about the coated, rose-colored lenses. Like the Hobie Phantom, the Outbound comes in a sharp faux tortoiseshell frame. The amber view from the Revo Wrap ($195; 800-444-7386) is crisp, thanks to numerous coatings that cut down glare and annoying reflections. The strong yet flexible nylon frame incorporates grippy rubber nosepieces.

You could coax Dracula onto the slopes in Vuarnet's Varmadillo ($120; 800-348-0388). Its flared frame offers supreme peripheral protection. My pair came with Vuarnet's gray, PX-3000 glass lenses and a flash-blue coating, which lets through less than 10 percent of the visible light. For my money, though, I'd opt for the $100 Ray-Ban SS Skyline (800-472-9226). Its gray glass lenses are mirror-coated to cut glare, the plastic frame has beefy metal hinges, and coverage is just enough without the lenses shrouding your temples. Once I got used to my eyelashes occasionally flickering against the lenses, I found the SS to be all-day comfortable.

Copyright 1997, Outside magazine

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