Monday, January 13, 2014

Photochromatic or Interchangeable Lens Ski Goggles?

While I stock ski goggles and help customers learn about them, I have plenty of time to wonder about people's gear choices.   And I'm constantly bewildered in this day and age by how people can even still ask the question "Goggles with changeable lenses or photochromic lens?"  Ever since I started skiing with Julbo's Revolution Goggle with Zebra Photochromatic Lenses 3 years ago, I've been a total convert to photochromatic goggle lenses.  (You'll sometimes see these referred to as photochromic, but it would seem that photochromatic is the more widely accepted term; in the optometrist's office you'd hear them being called transition lenses.  This makes plain sense.)  Julbo's Zebra lenses change from 42% to 7% visible light transmission in 28 seconds or less.(Their Camel and Falcon lenses offer variations on the same theme but with polarized capability.)
Julbo Revolution Photochromatic Goggles

I started writing this post shortly after trying to track down Zeal Optics photochromatic goggle technical specifications.  But even for one of their retailers,  Zeal ski goggle lenses specs are so hard to come by that you might think they're trade secrets.  I think the folks in Zeal's marketing department are so image conscious that they don't want gear geeks like you and me to look beyond the "cool" factor in their frame styles.  So I'm taking it upon myself to shout out how awesome Zeal's automatic lens are.  I suspect that since the other big market players don't have comparable technology, photochromatic lenses just haven't caught on yet.  As a result I'm guessing that the folks at Zeal don't want to take away from the mainstream appeal of their other lenses by pointing out how much better their high performance lenses are.  Of course the added cost of photochromatic lenses prices many consumers out of the market, but come on.  If you can spend $85 on a lift ticket --or $900 on a season pass--an extra $80-100 spent on better goggles is a small price to improve your skiing experience and stay safe.  Be that as it may, my intention is to give you as much information as I can so you can see why I'm so stoked by Zeal's Automatic lens.

Zeal Eclipse Photochromatic Goggles
For lack of Zeal's own professionally done demo video, I refer you to this homemade Zeal Automatic Lens YouTube video that will show you how sweet photochromatic goggles are.    Unless you're an elite competitor with sponsors providing different goggles for every possible condition are you really going to change your goggles or lenses multiple times/day as light conditions change.  Is it even worth debating how much time and effort it is to change the lens?  So you carry the lens in your pocket--or pack--and you stop mid-run to change out the lens as the light conditions differ at the top and bottom of the mountain?  And how much would it suck to drop a lens off the chairlift?  Pre-photo- chromatic lens maybe this made sense...but it's time to adapt. 

OK, so you ski out West somewhere like California or Utah and only see bluebird clear skies all season--I'd like to point out that it rained the last time I skied in UT--then these probably aren't worth your money.  But if you're used to changing mountain weather conditions, especially like those here on the East Coast, one pair of goggles with one lens is definitely the way to go.  Am I missing something?  If you've got other ideas on this--maybe the different tint options are superior or something?  comment on my post below and enlighten me.  The 2014 Outside Buyer's Guide picked goggles with interchangeable lenses.  Huh?  Why would anyone NOT want a goggle lens that changes by itself as needed.  Don't clouds form on top of the mountain?  Isn't it darker in the glades?  Doesn't the sun go down late on mid-winter afternoons?  Photochromatic goggles start to adjust immediately as light conditions change.  The sun goes into hiding as the storm front arrives with lots of POW...BAM! you're ready because your automatic lenses changed in less than 30 seconds.  You didn't have to go in to the lodge to fish out your light lens. 

I hear folks in the shop say "but I ski mostly in the glades".  And light conditions there aren't different from the main trail?  Again I can't figure out why everybody isn't wearing photochromatic ski goggles.  You invest in your ski gear...paid for that nice vacation...why not pay $80 more for a pair of goggles that is perfect for every snowboarding and ski condition.  (OK, they're not perfect for night skiing...and I'll concede this one advantage to the interchangeable goggle crowd.)  But even if you can't afford Zeal or Julbo's top of the line goggles,  you can find more affordable versions like Bolle's Modulator Vermillion lens available in most of their top frame styles like the Gravity. 

By now you might be wondering why I'm still wearing Julbo Zebra goggles when I'm so in love with Zeal's Automatic Goggles.  I could say the answer is that Julbo's technology is every bit as good and maybe even better than Zeal's but that wouldn't be truthful.  The folks at Julbo have just been too good to me, even setting me up with their new Orbiter Goggles with Zebra Lens after I smashed my Revolutions in a crash.  Of course, Julbo's technology probably is better, but my eyes aren't sensitive enough to gauge the difference in transition speed and as I noted before I just can find anywhere that has this Zeal spec published. 

So why aren't their a ton of reviews out there that give you the same answer as mine on the question of "Goggles with changeable lenses or photochromic lenses?"  Maybe the answer to why interchangeable lenses are still the industry standard when there are great photochromatic goggle options out there comes down to marketing money.  While companies like Julbo and Zeal Goggles don't have enough resources to get their own specs and demo videos out there, the big boys with the big marketing budgets are regularly putting down $30 to $40 grand for spreads in our favorite gear magazines.  And just like it's in my interests to be spending time at work to tell you about how great photochromatic lenses's in the publisher's interests to make sure their big advertisers' products are getting positive reviews.  (Here's the link if you are curious what the Outside Gear Guy thinks are the best photochromatic goggles.   Note: he doesn't call them the BEST goggles PERIOD.)  So be wary...but you owe it to yourself to check out a pair of photochromatic ski/snowboard goggles before you buy another pair.