What do you like least about skiing?
Icy moguls? Skied off steeps? Riding a slow lift on a windy day?
Sure, all of those can be spoilers.
How about flat light? That’s at the top of my list.
Flat light is the condition where, no matter how good your vision, you lose sense of your surroundings. It can be acute to the point that you think you are moving uphill when actually going downhill. It happens, although since it occurs most often above tree line, it is more common in the West, or in Europe. I’ve experienced it twice. At minimum it is disorienting. It can be paralyzing.
More likely in these parts, flat light can become an issue on days when the snow surface and the color of the sky are almost the same. You find it hard to distinguish terrain contours. You are skiing by feel.
A few years ago, I was cruising along comfortably on a groomed blue square trail, when all of a sudden I was on my back, one ski about 20 feet down the hill and the other at my side. Both poles were feet away and my goggles were sideways to my helmet.
What happened? I looked up, and I had hit a perpendicular cat track that I hadn’t seen. Yard sale!
It could have been worse, but properly set ski binding releases and a good fitting helmet saved me all but the embarrassment.
Most flat light episodes aren’t as dramatic as that. But when you find it — and around here, with gray days common in mid-winter, you don’t have to look hard — it can make for uncomfortable conditions on the slopes.
So, how to deal with it?
Chad Waters is a senior representative for Sun Valley-based ski equipment provider Smith Optics, a major goggle manufacturer for more than 50 years. Based out of Middle Grove, outside Saratoga Springs, he has been interacting with retailers in our area for the past 15 years. Flat light and how to minimize it is a major issue.
With the possible exception of poles, goggles are the piece of ski equipment in the bag most taken for granted. Turns out, to deal with issues like flat light, getting the right equipment requires a little more than passing attention.
“The first thing to check when buying goggles is fit,” Waters said. “The goggle should fit comfortably with no large gaps or pressure on the nose and sinuses. It is a good idea to try on the new goggles wearing your helmet. It is important that the goggle does does not push the helmet back causing an improper fit.”
How about lens selection? Options range from dark to clear. The choice is important.
“You want to choose a tint best suited for the light conditions you will most frequently encounter,” Waters said. “Skiing here in the Northeast, a good mid- to low-light lens is often the most useful. VLT [Visual Light Transmission] is the standard measure. The more natural light allowed, the better for flat light and gray days.”
What about interchangeable lenses?
“Not a necessity, but this certainly adds versatility, especially for skiers who travel to different regions,” he said. “Check the ease of changing lenses. New options using magnets seem to work well. Having a good selection for different conditions does little good if switching isn’t an easy process.”
Goggle selection, like ski selection, makes a good argument for going to a specialty ski shop. Shop employees are trained on the equipment sold in-house and can be expected to make certain that a customer makes the right choice. Goggles can be an inexpensive accessory or can be a substantial investment. There are many models available in many brands and given proper care a pair will last many seasons. Be sure to consider the features that matter to you as well as price when choosing a new pair.
How about those of us who wear glasses?
“If you need to wear prescription glasses while skiing, make sure you look for OTG [over-the-glass] goggles,” Waters said. “These have increased volume inside the goggle to accommodate the extra space needed for the glasses.”
With facemasks now standard throughout ski areas, foggy goggles are a common problem. But my experience is that one you begin to move, the ventilation in a good goggle clears the lens quickly.
“Air flow is the key,” Waters said. “And be careful with the lenses. Good ones come already treated and lenses can be spoiled with extraneous products or materials.”
And what about when not in use?
“Goggles should be treated like any other piece of ski equipment,” he said. “At home, they should be removed from the ski bag to dry out. Once dry, put the goggles in the microfabric bag the came with a purchase. In the off season, keep them in the bag in a dry place. You should expect several years use out of a good pair.”
Flat light may never go away altogether. But with the right equipment, it is much less likely to spoil a good day on the slopes.
OC’S BACK TO PLATTEKILL
This has been a tough year for group ski travel. So why settle for gathering a group when you can reserve the entire ski area? The OC Ski Club did that earlier this winter at Plattekill and now they are doing it once again next month. Wednesday, March 10, it will be all OC at Plattekill. For more information, check [email protected].
SALUTE TO THE GROOMERS
Last Tuesday, I went to Gore with frequent sidekicks Skyler and Rileigh. The roads were icy and so were the slopes. By consensus, it was one run and done on the hill. We were back two days later. The conditions were superb, the best I can recall anywhere we went at the ski area. The groomers did a magnificent job reshaping the area in just a short time. Kudos to all.
BALLSTON SPA GIRLS WIN ALPINES
In recapping the final meet for Section II skiers last week, I mistakenly credited the Saratoga Springs girls with the team victory. The meet was won by the girls from Ballston Spa. Saratoga finished second in the overall scoring. It was the reverse in the boys’ event.
Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected]