Ugh. Flat light makes the going tenuous. Jan’s wife threads down through the powder. Credit: Jan Brunvand

It isn’t just senior skiers who suffer in flat light, but whiteouts may take a greater toll on our sometimes diminished vision and balance. Case in point: the few falls I’ve had in recent ski seasons were all in flat light conditions. One crash last February caused a minor injury and led to the realization that I shoulda known better.

I wish I had gone to the lodge instead of to the lift with the senior group that day at Sundance when I gazed up at the summit swathed in mist and swirling snow. Instead, I toughed it out for a couple of runs, eventually getting to that sickening point when I couldn’t tell up from down, or whether I was moving or standing still.

I tumbled over an invisible bump, pulling the muscle in my left calf. I managed to get home, needing only my right leg to drive. At the University of Utah Orthopedic Center I got an ultra-sound and instructions for wrapping and icing my leg so it would heal itself in about ten days.

While I was recuperating I composed a parody of a politically-incorrect song of the late 40s, “The Too Fat Polka.” The original was recorded by, among others, Franie Yankovic, Arthur Godfrey and (with a change of pronouns) The Andrew Sisters. I altered “She’s too fat for me” to “The light’s too flat for me,” and I ended up with this:

Here’s a silly ditty, you can sing it while you ski.

Just don’t hit a tree, and sing it while you ski.

Here’s a silly jingle, you can sing it night or noon.

Here’s the words, that’s all you need, ‘cause I just sang the tune.

Chorus:

            Oh! If I can’t see it, I can’t ski it,

            It’s too flat for me,

            Much too flat for me,

            The light’s too flat for me.

            I can’t see it, I can’t ski it,

            It’s too flat for me

            It’s too flat; light’s too flat.

            It’s too flat for me.

It’s a fright out,

There’s no light out,

I can’t ski here,

In this awful whiteout.

(Chorus)

Can you ski when it snows?

No, no, no, no, no.

Can you ski when it blows?

No, no, no, no, no.

Can you ski in the trees?

In the sun it’s a breeze,

But if you possibly, run into a tree. . .

NO, NO, NO!

(Chorus)

I can’t grapple

With the graupel*,

I can’t ski right

When there’s no more daylight.

(Chorus)

I get woozie,

I get dizzy,

When its foggy

Then I’m in a tizzy.

(Chorus)

Hey!

*Small particles of snow over a thin, fragile crust of ice

Note: The Wikipedia article “Whiteout” distinguishes between Flat Light (a “diffusion of sunlight”) and Whiteout (a ”reduction and scattering of sunlight”). Flat light produces a “flat featureless vista [causing] loss of depth of field resulting in disorientation.” Severe Whiteout may lead to “a loss of kinesthesia . . . confusion, loss of balance and an overall reduction in the ability to operate.”

I’m not sure I understand the difference, but for sure its all bad for safe skiing.

Head for the lodge after this one? Think so. Credit: Jan Brunvand

14 Comments

  1. Sherm White says:

    I use Julbo goggles with their Zebra light red lens. It’s photochromatic, so I use it in all light. It’s the best lens for flat light I’ve used since the old Bolle rose colored lens

    • Jan Brunvand says:

      Sounds good, but since I wear an OSBE helmet with visor I have only three choices of color: amber, smoke, and mirrored, none of which really cuts through flat light very well. But . . . such a cool helmet!

  2. Bill Tidmore says:

    I agree with all of the above on whiteouts and flat light and being blind in my left eye since age 4 yrs. just compounds the problem. Two solutions for me is go in about 3 or 3:30 and don’t let a good day be ruined by the last hour of struggling. Another fun thing for all day whiteout is just bundle up with hood, goggles,etc. and just ski alone in the silence of the snow picking your turns and enjoying the freedom of no other skiers around. It took a while for this mind set, ageing helps.
    Bill Tidmore M.D. 76 and still turning em.

  3. Rebecca Royston says:

    Very well done and so true! In VT the light is flat nearly every day in January after 1:00. I use increasingly hard to find yellow lens goggles. In fact, I always use these goggles as I can’t seem to find that second dark lens that came with them…

  4. Dave Collins says:

    I too had a problem with flat light last spring while on my way to a PSIA clinic. The light was beyond flat, it was foggy and raining that morning in Vail. I had skied that run more times than I could remember but near the bottom, I hit something under the snow and ended up with 4 broken Ribs.ouch. I had to meet the group so I continued on since had paid my entry fee. Event should have been canceled in my opinion. I still try to ski at the highest level.
    D Collins 72 years

  5. I have been avoiding flat light for years – discretion is the better part of valor especially at the age of 86!!!!

    • Jan Brunvand says:

      I’ll turn 86 in March and hope to celebrate at Aspen with the Wild Old Bunch. Now that I’ve learned my lesson the hard way (though not as hard as Dave Collins reports above) I avoid skiing in flat light. If I must, then I stick to trees and edges of runs.

  6. You don’t need to see to ski…ask me how.

  7. Jan Brunvand says:

    OK, I’ll ask, How?

  8. On sunny days my view of the world while skiing is expansive but on those flat light days my world becomes tiny as every sense is focused on the small area 15 feet in front of me.

    BTW, do we need to have days with flat light to fully appreciate sunny days?

  9. Marc Gershel says:

    Jan, can you tell me more about your OSBE helmet. Does it pinch your nose closed? Does it fog?

    • Jan Brunvand says:

      The visor pivots down like a motorcycle or jet pilot helmet, and soft foam edges do not pinch the nose. However, the seal around the edge of the visor is not perfectly air tight, so on a really snowy windy day some snow may get inside the visor. Usually the visor does not fog up unless I happen to breathe up into it. Then I just raise the visor for a few seconds to clear it out. My wife and I both wear OSBE helmets and like them. Besides being very functional, they are super COOL and get a lot of comments.

  10. Normand L Reynolds says:

    The cheap yellow-lens driving glasses you pick up at truck stops work pretty well, and many wrap around enough to be almost goggles

  11. Scott Pearson says:

    The smith I/OX CHROMAPOP comes with a storm lense and whatever lense you order I got the Sun Green Mirror, this has been a game changer for me, I spent 20+ years welding everyday and my eyes are very sensitive to the light and get sore on those bright days the Sun Green Mirror lense is fantastic my eyes have zero issues with this lense in the bright sun, the big surprise was the storm lense that came with the goggles, I used another pair of goggles for those flat light days and then I decided to try the storm lense in my new smith goggles and WOW WHAT A DIFFERENCE these are so much better than anything I have tried ( I have tried the latest and greatest and spent a small fortune on goggles over the years because of my eye situation ) I can see the bumps and terrain good enough to ski in just about any condition here in Utah, they are a little expensive but worth double the cost to me.
    SMITH IF YOU SEE THIS PLEASE SEND ME A FREE GOGGLES FOR LIFE COUPON, LOL

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