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Ski In It If You Must. If You Must, Here’s Some Advice.

Go slow and watch the snow. Credit: MechanicsOfSport

If you’re like me, skiing in flat light isn’t fun, but it beats not skiing. It is as if one is skiing inside of a milk bottle. Like different types of snow conditions, we’ve all had to deal with it.

For the record, flat light occurs when there’s no contrast, and one can’t see shadow and/or gradients of light that define shadows. On a mountain, flat light occurs when it is snowing, or under a thick overcast or when you are skiing in the clouds and sunlight can’t reach the trail on which you are skiing. In other words, there’s little or no contrast, and you’re eyes can’t see the “texture” of the snow surface.

Flat light affects everyone differently and us older folks are more affected than young whipper-snappers. You can’t change the weather that leaves three choices:  Ski only when the sun is out; ski wearing goggles that improve contrast; and/or alter the way you ski.

Not skiing is, at least to me, not an option so let’s move to goggle technology. The buzzword is visible light transmission or VLT. Lighter tints of amber, yellow, rose, green, gold colored lenses transmit more light than the same level greens, copper, browns and gray tints. Flat light varies from on one slope from another and day to day. Sp, if you need goggles to manage flat light, wait until you get to the ski area and step outside to see what shade lens works best.

To see “better” in flat light, years ago, I tried yellow and other colored lenses which helped but….still not great. Frustrated, I tried a pair of yellow Ray-Ban shooting glasses that were better than goggles with yellow lenses. On my last trip, I wore polarized sunglasses with the brown Serengeti tint. They were better than yellow lenses, but not practical when it was snowing.

Goggle makers such as Oakley, Smith, Scott, Giro all have products they claim help you see better in flat light. Be prepared to spend big bucks, i.e. $200+ for a pair. How well they work depends on the ambient/flat light, lens color, tint of your glasses or contacts, the health of your eyes, and other variables.

There is something that works and doesn’t cost a dime. It is how you ski the mountain. Here are four tips that will improve your flat light ski experience.

  • Tip 1: Ski near the trees, snowmaking guns and lift towers along the side of the trail. They provide contrast, faint shadows, and reference points.
  • Tip 2: Avoid skiing bowls, wide-open areas, and trails because in flat light, the subtle differences in “height” needed to create shadows doesn’t exist.
  • Tip 3: Slow down, give yourself more time to react to moguls, surprises in the terrain, and avoid obstacles.
  • Tip 4: Wear bright or ‘dayglo’ colors. You want other skiers to see you.

Best advice for flat light is be careful and ski within your limits so you can enjoy the skiing. If you’re uncomfortable or tense, find a trail that works for you and stick with it.

Decide for yourself if this is for you. Credit: MechanicsOfSport

 

 

26 Comments

  1. One more tip. Follow other skiers. (not too close though)

  2. Kevin Toolan says:

    I ski in Vt. And flat light is routine occurrence. The only thing that works for me in flat light is clear goggles. In the east( Vt.& NJ) they are almost impossible to find. I bought a pair of Oakley’s with clear lenses on Amozon. They work fine.

  3. Continue turning, avoid traversing. Keeping your body in motion. It keeps you flexible for absorbing what you don’t see. This will also help you with speed control.

    Do it pretty much all the time and it might well improve your skiing.

  4. Ed Lindquist says:

    My choice was to go with Oakley’s Pink Iridium VR50. They are an older version of Oakley’s Prizm Snow Hi Pink Iridium. I got both and kept the VR50 as they had better contrast. But I do agree that sometimes I still stick with my clear lenses.

  5. John Ferguson says:

    After doing some research I purchased a pair of XEVO OTG goggles with a “norwestern” lens. Nothing is perfect but they were a definite improvement, especially for my over 70 eyes.

  6. The Clarity lens works well and many different brands offer it. You can get just this lens for your existing goggles for $70 from ProLens.com

  7. Yvette Cardozo says:

    I have an ancient pair of Smith goggles with a fairly strong yellow lens. Sadly, they are no longer made. This is the only color that works…for me, at any rate.The rose lenses that were touted as the flat light miracle lens some years back actually made the viz even worse…again, for me. And so it goes.

  8. bill tidmore says:

    Try all above tips, then close one eye…that’s me blind in left eye,skiing since 1969. Best bet, quit at 3PM unless April. Don’t let flat light ruin the joy you had earlier in the day. If whiteout, enjoy the solitude. and just go slower.I have skied with blind skiers and be grateful we have flat light.

  9. Any Goggle with a Hi-Intensity yellow lens such as the one offered by Oakley will help tremendously. I have been using Oakley goggles with the Hi-Intensity yellow lens for the better part of 20 years now and never leave home without them. Most of my skiing is done at either Sunday River or Sugarloaf where flat light is very common.

  10. Clear googles over polarized sunglasses with the brown Serengeti tint sounds like a good combo. I’ve skied flat light conditions off Whistler’s highest chair and half blind is all I can call it. No matter what color parka you were wearing, it was black to me, until you came within 25 feet of me. Our party got separated, as it was impossible to recognize anyone’s clothes or boot color. Even going slow while using long narrow traverses I was unable to see a huge block of dynamited cornice lying in my way, luckily my downhill ski didn’t touch it but my uphill ski climbed waist high and back down and I had no idea what happened until after the fact, and I was moving at about walking speed. Only ski the glades in flat light!

  11. The Clarity lens works for me and it is available for different brands. I bought this lens for my goggles from ProLens.com for only $70.

  12. John Moorfoot says:

    On a slightly related subject. Why do goggle manufacturers put the coatings on the outside surface of the lens? Why can’t they put it on one of the protected surfaces of a double lens? I have asked manufacturers over the years and NEVER received a single reply let alone a positive explanation.

  13. Ouch. I’ve skied Whistler and Blackcomb in flat light and it was no fun. We moved down to the lower part of Whistler to ski alongside the trees. I’ve skied into mounds of snow because I couldn’t see the gradient due to a lack of light. If the light is flat, i wear a bright yellow jacket that my brother calls my Big Bird jacket…

  14. I saw a recommendation to get glasses. While I don’t normally use glasses except reading glasses, I was tested and got a pair that does help when paired with the right goggle.

  15. Normand L Reynolds says:

    I got a pair of cheap yellow driving glasses for fog or night driving at a truck stop, and they are as good as anything I’ve tried, plus they are called “choppers” and have Harley logos on them, in case that would improve your image!

  16. So much great advice. At 65, starting at age four, I am avoiding flat light days even if epic POW is all over our local Idaho treasure, Bogus Basin. I hate surprises. The bottom drops out and then you get a face full of knees.

  17. BERNIE DILLON says:

    I just bought photochromic goggles and they are big improvement over my old goggles. 79 and still out there!

  18. Lynn A. Kane says:

    One more tip that works for me (after years of frustrating over-the-glasses with Turbo Fans–fans were good but the cumbersome feel of it all, made me feel like a test pilot!)—–I learned by trial and error. Loosen up those knees and hips—so that when you ARE surprised by a mogul or sudden terrain change, your body will (hopefully) absorb the ‘big surprise’ and you won’t go over like a wooden soldier! Be ‘loose as a goose’! (weird expression!!) Try not to ski with limbs like “The Tin Man”! Expect the unexpected! And try to enjoy the ride! :-0

  19. At 82 and skiing only locally (ME and NH) I simply pick and choose my days, skiing only when the light is good. If I get caught by increasing cloud cover, I head for the bar and order a dark ale. Years ago in my ski patrol days i had to ski all weather and all conditions. That is no longer the case. I also have the luxury of a flexible work schedule. On cloudy days I sit at my desk and write or make contacts with skiers who can furnish info for my next book. The latest two, Shawnee Peak at Pleasant Mt and the History of Mt Abram are available on Amazon. Send me the mailing address, Mike and I’ll send a check for this shameless plug.

  20. Yvette Cardozo says:

    Someone came out with a rose tinted goggle ‘for flat light.’ For me, it was worse than nothing. I have an ancient pair of light yellow goggles by Smith that I treasure and have never been able to replace. That is the only thing that works for me. The tactics…ski alongside trees, be flexible, slow down and the rest are my go to tactics here in the Pacific NW

  21. I would like to know the best lens (google ) for low light.
    I don’t need to know all that other stuff. I already know that.
    Thank you.

  22. bill neumeister says:

    Try light blue.
    Industrial wrap around safety glasses come in two shades.
    If you can find a light blue lens for your goggles send me a pair.

  23. Philip Brencher says:

    Yellow lenses work best for me. I bought my current pair by going into the ski shop lot after dark and trying a few pair. I settled on Treviso. If possible, learn the mountain and the sun’s route across the sky relative to the mountain then try to maximize whatever light there is by skiing where you think the sun’s hitting the mountain. On a mountain like Stratton you can literally follow the sun across the mountain. On Pico, stay on the “sunny” side even if the sun’s not out. Skiing the shady side is tough even on a sunny day. I’m damn near blind in my left eye so i need every advantage I can get to improve my depth perception. Having said that, sometimes I have to wave the white flag later in the day.

  24. Dear Team Senior Skiers,
    There is an elephant in the room. As we age our human lenses become more and more yellow. The average age for cataract surgery is now 72, but changes occur far before that age. I have removed cataracts in 40 year olds and patients who have distorting human lens, often referred to as “dysfunctional lens syndrome”. Also they just don’t function as well as our 21 year eyes did. There is an old saw that you have to wait for “cataracts to ripen” with today’s surgical technology you can remove your cataracts early, correct your astigmatism, get rid of glasses and see better than most, especially in adverse conditions.

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