How to Choose a Mask for Skiing and Mountaineering

Ski masks are a fundamental element to protect our eyes when the wind, snow and sun are strong in the mountains. Here we explain all the types and how to choose them.

Ski, snow and mountain masks are a fundamental element so that our eyes are protected with certain guarantees from harsh winter weather.

It is something fundamental: ozone and oxygen in the atmosphere are responsible for blocking all UVC rays and the vast majority of UVB rays, but the higher we go the air is less dense and the protection it provides is reduced. Compared to that received at sea level, the intensity of solar radiation is 50% greater at 2000 meters and much more than double at 4000 meters. Even infrared rays, usually harmless to the body, can cause problems with excessive dryness of the eyes in the high mountains.

If we add to this the freezing wind and the reflection of the snow (a terrain without snow formation can reflect 20% of sunlight, while that same terrain in snowy conditions reflects between 80 and 90% of sunlight) , we understand why, without adequate sun protection, we can even get snow blindness.

We explain all this in more detail in our article Sunglasses for mountain: guide to choosing appropriately

The first question we usually have is:

Mask or Sunglasses?

The advantages of masks over sunglasses are:

  • Total protection against snow and, especially, wind. Essential for blizzards.
  • Larger area protected against the cold.
  • Very good adaptation to the face
  • Perfect fit when using a ski helmet
  • Safety in case of a fall: the material with which they are constructed absorbs impacts, and the lens is usually a polycarbonate mixture that is softer than the lenses of frame glasses.
  • Greater variety of lenses, for all types of days (although some sports glasses equal masks in this aspect).
  • OTG (Over The Glass) models allow the use of glasses under them. Something very necessary for those who regularly need corrective lenses.
  • Since not everything is perfect, these are the drawbacks:

    • They produce more heat: on less cold days, or in aerobic climbing activities - mountaineering, ski touring - we will notice it.
    • This heat causes sweat which makes them fog up more easily (but, as we will see, ventilation has greatly improved this problem).
    • They take up a lot of space when we are not wearing them.
    • An aesthetic issue: the mark the sun leaves on our face is larger and very visible.
    • For comfort and aesthetics, we will only wear them when strictly necessary; less versatile than glasses.

    In general, we can say that, in winter situations in the mountains, whether in skiing, mountaineering or any other activity, there is a possibility of bad weather, wind or blizzard, despite the advances in fit and protection of current outdoor sunglasses, masks are recommended. And if we practice a speed sport, like skiing, with a high risk of falls, too.

    Ventilation

    As we have said, two of the problems with ski masks - both related - have to do with their greater ease of fogging, and the greater heat they produce on less cold days, or during uphill aerobic activity, such as ski touring or mountaineering.

    Fogging, just like in a car, is caused by the accumulation of vapor caused by the temperature difference between the outside and the inside. To solve this situation, manufacturers have found three combined solutions:

    • Double lens
    • Antifog treatment
    • Ventilation
    Despite their higher price, we should always try to choose masks with double lenses. Virtually all quality and proven brand masks incorporate anti-fog treatment.

    And with regard to vents, they are more important every day, because they reduce the sensation of heat, and reduce the possibility of sweat.

    Normally the vents are usually frontal so that the air entry is direct and circulation is faster.

    They are usually “integrated” into the structure of the mask, between the foam layers, which in addition to providing comfort and fit, fulfill the important mission of creating more space between the lens and our eyes to promote ventilation. Masks are usually made up of at least two layers of foam of different densities depending on their position.

    Nowadays, practically all quality masks and well-known brands have an excellent ventilation system. Which, it must be said, greatly minimizes the problem, but in extreme contrast situations, it does not completely disappear.

    Brands like Julbo go one step further, with the Super Flow System, with which it is possible to expand that interior space and add extra ventilation to the mask. Let's say that it works by separating the lens from the mask in a very simple way, with a single movement, allowing free circulation of air.

    Super Flow System by Julbo
    Julbo Super Flow System

    This specific case can be a good option for ski touring or ski mountaineering, since by activating this system we get extra ventilation that will allow us to approach or climb with the corresponding protection of the mask in addition to the comfort of having good ventilation.

    Julbo Starwind, with Superflow system
    Julbo Starwind, with Superflow system

    Field of Vision and Size

    One of the virtues of ski goggles over old glacier goggles was their greater viewing angle.

    But glasses have evolved, and when the modern wrap-around designs of mountain glasses emerged, the masks began to lose angle of vision in front of them.

    To solve this problem, the lenses of the masks are increasingly larger, and the frames are increasingly thinner, to the point that currently, in terms of side vision, they surpass some glasses.

    Bollé Northstar S3, minimized frames
    Bollé Northstar S3, minimized frames

    However, those who use mountaineering masks will have seen that this is true in terms of lateral peripheral vision. But in a sport in which, in the vertical ascent, it is common to have to look at your feet during climbing, masks represent a certain handicap.

    That is why it is interesting to always look for the one that fits our face by size (fit is the main thing in a mask, and it is useless to buy a large size if it is too big for us), choose the one with the smallest frame and largest field of vision for this type of sports.

    Currently the trend is for lenses to become increasingly larger and for the frame to become increasingly thinner in order to have a wider field of vision.

    Of course, in addition to masks for smaller and larger faces, there are junior masks, for little skiers.

    CYLINDRICAL-SPHERICAL

    Closely related to the above is the construction of the lens used.

    We can find them of two types:

    • Cylindrical: they are flat, as if they were a part of a cylinder. That is to say: they only have horizontal curvature, being flat vertically.
    • Spherical: they are like a part of a sphere, with both horizontal and vertical curvature.
    • The cylindrical ones can cause some problems with reflections and distortions, and have less peripheral vision, so, to achieve the current lateral reach of the spherical ones, they have to be oversized too much. They are cheaper.
      Smith Squad, cylindrical lens
      Smith Squad, cylindrical lens
      Spherical lenses largely eliminate reflections and distortions and, at the same size, they have greater peripheral vision than cylindrical ones; If they are oversized and the frame is minimized, they achieve great vision in all directions.
      Bollé Torus C3, spherical lens
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      Bollé Torus C3, spherical lens

      SUN PROTECTION

      Traditionally, as masks were used in bad weather situations, they were usually made with low levels of sun protection, with some simply providing contrast for low visibility and barely reduced the amount of light transmitted. Always keeping in mind that, when we talk about different degrees of protection, we are talking about the greater or capacity of light to pass through the lens; UV protection is always complete, at all degrees.

      But today, in which the use of masks has spread with improvements in their design and features, it is common to find them for any situation.

      There is a classification of protection categories, from lowest to highest, based on the Visible Light Transmission Index (VLT), which is the percentage of visible light that passes through the lens.

      • Category 0: Lets between 100 and 80 percent of light pass through
      • Category 1: Allows between 80 and 60 percent of light to pass through
      • Category 2: Allows between 60 and 20 percent of light to pass through
      • Category 3: Allows between 20 and 10 percent of light to pass through
      • Category 4: Allows between 10 and 3 percent of light to pass through
      Something important: although masks and glasses are often talked about in terms of category, it is much better to do so by the percentage of light transmitted. The reason is that the borders between grades 0 to 4 in the classifications are not the same in all brands, with differences in the areas closest to the change. The percentage, on the other hand, is an objective value.

      In many cases, the same models can be found with lenses with different protections and, as we will explain later, photochromic lenses, also in different protection values.

      Julbo Cyrius Category 1-3 photochromic
      Julbo Cyrius Category 1-3 photochromic
      Julbo Cyrius Reactiv, category 2-4 photochromic
      Julbo Cyrius Reactiv, category 2-4 photochromic
      The variation in degree is achieved through the color and tone of the lens. In cases of greater protection, the lenses can be mirrored.

      The most common colors in the mountains are gray, yellow and red. Gray is usually associated with greater protection against luminosity and the correct perception of colors, while yellowish and brown colors perfectly capture contrasts and reliefs, in addition to reducing visual fatigue. Reds and oranges are used especially in snow sports to improve vision.

      It should be noted that the lenses of all well-known brand masks have 100 percent UV protection.

      PHOTOCHROMATIC LENSES

      If we had to highlight the greatest advance in recent years in terms of ski and snow goggles, it is the improvement of photochromic lenses.

      These vary their degree of protection depending on the existing light (1-3, 2-4, 2-3, etc.), which makes them highly versatile.

      Uvex Downhill 2000 V, photochromic lens, category 1-3
      Uvex Downhill 2000 V, photochromic lens, category 1-3
      If, for example, we choose a 1-3, or 2-4 lens, we can use it on days with intense sun in the snowy mountains, but if we enter the shadows, the afternoon arrives, or it becomes cloudy and the sun disappears, it will automatically change its degree, avoiding having to wear several pairs of glasses or masks or, if the lens is very dark, having to remove it to be able to see, leaving our eyes unprotected.

      Web store: www.barrabes.com

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