Alpine optics have made huge leaps. Enjoy the view.
Smith I/O with ChromaPop
Gear of the Year
The truth is, goggle lenses have always been interchangeable. It just used to be a pain in the ass to wrestle them into the frame. Then, eight years ago, Smith introduced an easy lens-swapping design and offered condition-specific hues—storm day, bright sun, and flat light—to boost performance, revolutionizing the market. The first iteration had a panoramic field of view, a sharp spherical lens, a comfy fit (thanks to three layers of foam), and a supple, articulating frame. Today every major manufacturer offers at least one pair of goggles with swappable lenses. But the I/O is still our favorite. All the original features remain, but the lenses are now crafted with ChromaPop technology. The human eye takes a fraction longer to distinguish colors where blue, green, and red light cross paths. By filtering out the in-between wavelengths, Smith’s lenses allow the brain to process color and contrast more quickly. On the hill during a storm last spring, we found ourselves squinting less and skiing faster. But the biggest advantage came when our line turned from a sunny open slope to a shaded gully. With ChromaPop, each lens is adept in a huge range of conditions, so you can see into the shadows and discern the crud from the silky corduroy at 50 miles per hour. Another reason to love the I/O: better foam on the frame hugs your face. And we’re still fans of Smith’s precise hinged lens-changing system. It might take a few seconds longer to operate than a magnet-based one, but the payoff is worth it. The I/O vents exceedingly well, won’t let in wind or snow at high speeds, and will never jettison from your face in a spill.
Best For: Full field of view plus security during a spill.
The Test: This German brand earned its reputation by building precise ski bindings. In the past few years, it turned its attention to on-snow protection, including helmets and these goggles, which feature a low-weight, burly polymer that provides cushioning on impact and firms up in more severe hits. The 16:10+ comes with a lightly mirrored lens called Yellow Plasma that excels during overcast days on Northeast and Pacific Northwest hills like Sunday River and Crystal Mountain. The included storm-day lens, Clarity Mirror, served us well when conditions got blizzardy. And we loved the spherical shape for its huge field of view.
The Verdict: Look here if you have a wide face or, like us, want maximum coverage.
Spy Bravo Discrete
Best For: Performance, style, and joy.
The Test: Happy Lens is Spy’s light-filtering technology, which the company claims eliminates diffused or flat light and makes you feel good, too. We’re believers. In summertime, the glasses make the grass greener and flowers redder. And in winter, the increased contrast was noticeable on a bright February day when the light was fading and our eyes were tiring. Like most of the goggles on these pages, the Bravo Discrete features a crystalline spherical lens (with a swappable mirrored gray one for storms) and three layers of plush foam. It also comes with a tweed neck gaiter from the clothiers at Salt Lake City’s Discrete Clothing. One gripe: a wipeout can punch snow into the frame.
The Verdict: Technical goggles with some soul to boot.
Best For: Frostbite conditions.
The Test: No matter how hard you try to cover up your nose, standard neck gaiters always manage to slip down and leave you exposed to the elements. With the nifty M3 goggles from Anon, that needn’t be the case. The magnet system used for switching out the lenses also allows you to attach an included neck gaiter to cover your cheeks and beak to avoid sun- and windburn. We assumed the veil would cause fogging but encountered no problems on a cold lift ride into a headwind. Ditto with the descent in temperatures around ten degrees. The standard lens is dark enough for full sun, and the mirrored yellow storm lens cuts through weather like a fog lamp.
The Verdict: The best for stealth and skin protection.
Best For: Looking good and seeing well on a budget.
The Test: Skiing and snowboarding are expensive, but cheaping out on goggles is a mistake. Low-end models often have fog-prone single lenses that scratch easily inside and out and single-layer foam at the face that quickly compresses. That’s not the case with the Balance from Giro. It offers features often found in pricier goggles, including a spherical Zeiss lens, three layers of face foam, and a silicone-beaded strap (essential if you wear a helmet). We had no trouble with fogging, and the optics are tack sharp. It’s also a handsome design, with a mirrored lens and a frame finished in faux wood grain. It works as well as goggles costing $80 more.
The Verdict: Spend your savings on a burger at the lodge!
Best For: Backcountry missions.
The Test: The Electrolite might be the first pair of goggles ever produced with extreme weight savings in mind. Most goggles have relatively heavy polyurethane frames. Here the frame is über-light EVA (the same stuff used in the midsoles of running shoes) that fits snugly against your face. Most straps are made of fabric. Here they’re cut from molded silicone. We loved the Electrolite for backcountry skiing, where its 2.7 ounces added almost nothing to pack weight on the climb. But it’s also full-featured (including a cylindrical double lens with antifog treatment) and, thanks to that EVA frame and three layers of cushy foam, comfortable enough for everyday use.
The Verdict: Weight savings works for freestyle, too.
Best For: Screaming down groomers.
The Test: You can find cheaper goggles, of course, but with so many features the POC Fovea is a screaming deal. It boasts a spherical Zeiss lens, which improves optical clarity and peripheral vision, so you can keep track of the skiers on either side of you as you whip past. The polyurethane frame is soft and malleable, conforming comfortably around your face. And ample ventilation in both the frame and the lens means the Fovea remained fog-free even on a rapidly warming day spent skiing mushy spring snow in the trees. The single frame size best fits medium and large faces, and the silicone-beaded strap sticks to the helmet, keeping everything nicely in place.
The Verdict: A great choice if you tend to ski or ride in wetter climates.