Eye protection is pretty vital when out on the slopes. UV rays, snow glare, ice chips, and more provide plenty of potential dangers for what’s arguably your most important pair of sensory organs.
When it comes to protecting your eyes while skiing or snowboarding, you’ve got two options, goggles or sunglasses. Goggles are the norm when it comes to playing in the snow, but sunglasses definitely have their benefits as well. It can be nice to have slightly less-restrictive eye protection equipment, and the increased airflow (read: anti-fog) is truly liberating, especially if you’re up-hilling it in the backcountry. While they don’t offer the full storm-skiing, powder-bashing protection of goggles (some options on this list get really, really close), ski sunglasses can be a fun and stylish choice for bluebird days on the resort, backcountry adventures, the aprés-ski scene, and so much more.
The Smith Wildcats offer a lightweight, wrap-around style with Smith’s signature Chromapop technology. Pictured, pro skier Cody Townsend sports his Matte Black/Red Mirror colorway.
There are some awesome options that have hit the market in the past couple of years for sunglasses that are specifically designed for skiing and snowboarding (there’s also a lot of crossover with biking sunglasses), with cool features such as side-shields, lanyards, snow-oriented tints, and polarization. We reached out to the most exciting and innovative sunglass-makers in the outdoors industry, got our hands on their highest-performing and most stylish models, and gave them a run for their money to help you stay informed in choosing sunglasses to play in the snow with. Over the past few seasons, we’ve tried a lot of sunglasses, and these are our favorites. Scroll to the bottom for info on different types of sunglasses for skiing, a comparison chart, and more.
The Best Sunglasses for Skiing and Snowboarding
Best Wrap-Around Coverage: Poc Devour Glacial ($250)
Best Lens Technology: Smith Wildcat ($209)
Best Photochromic Sunglasses: Tifosi Sledge ($80)
Best Aprés-Style Sunglasses: Anon Advocate ($229)
Best Budget Ski Sunglasses: Sunski Treeline ($89)
Which Features Matter for Ski Sunglasses?
The things I pay attention to when choosing a pair of sunglasses to ski in are coverage, lens technology, and of course, style. Coverage matters a lot, both for protecting your eyes and for blocking the wind during high-speed descents. Lens Technology is also important in what can be blindingly bright conditions out on the snow. Different levels of polarization, or special tints like Smith’s ChromaPop, can provide different benefits for various skiing conditions. Style is a must because, of course, it is. Fit is another huge consideration, and I did my best to indicate where on the fit spectrum each pair of sunglasses lies. For reference, my face tends to fit medium/large-fit sunglasses the best, but everyone’s face is different, so I figured this was better expressed in words rather than a score based on how well the sunglasses fit my own face.
Best Coverage for Ski Sunglasses:
Pros: Swappable lenses, great extra (and removable) coverage at the brow and temples.
Cons: Lens-swapping isn’t fast.
Lens Technology: 4.5
Poc’s Devour Glacial sunglasses come about as close to a pair of goggles as you can get in a pair of sunglasses, making them a great choice for skiers who don’t want to sacrifice performance. The wide lens combined with removable panels at the brow and temples provide the best coverage I’ve tried, and best of all, due to the curve of the lens, the side shields do not impinge on peripheral vision whatsoever. Out of sight, out of mind. The Zeiss lenses provide great clarity but aren’t quite as high-performance in low/flat light as Smith’s ChromaPop technology below. The brow panel is a great, goggle-inspired addition, resting against the forehead with a comfortable foam backer to protect against sun and snow, and I’ve yet to meet it’s like in other sunglasses. And they look good, too, especially (in my opinion) with the mirrored lens.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Best Lens Technology in Ski Sunglasses:
Pros: Swappable lenses, nice, albeit bulky, hard case.
Cons: Lens-swapping is a process, especially with cold fingers.
Lens Technology: 5
The Wildcats are one of Smith’s most popular action-sports sunglasses, suited to snowsports and really anything you set your mind to. If you plan on going fast, these are the way to go. Coverage is great with a wrap-around lens style and minimalist frame that does little to obstruct your view. As far as the lens technology, this is where the Wildcats really shine. Smith’s ChromaPop tech is no snake oil – the difference that such a tint makes in terms of visibility on the snow, especially in flat-light conditions, is pretty remarkable. Best of all, it works in both high- and low-light conditions. I tried out the Matte White colorway with a ChromaPop Black lens (VLT 10 percent, Smith’s darkest tint) and was impressed with how well it handled shade as well as sun, and the included clear lens is awesome for night skiing or very dark conditions. Style-wise, they’re definitely steezy out on the slopes, but I’m not sure if I’d wear them for a walk around town here in San Francisco.
Best Photochromic Ski Sunglasses:
Pros: Solid coverage. Photochromic lenses provide great versatility in varied light conditions.
Cons: Ventilation slits are more suited to biking than skiing.
Lens Technology: 5
Photochromic lenses used to be hated on as a gimmicky marketing term. And they were, at least before the technology got as good as it is today. It used to be that photochromic lenses were either too dark or too light to truly cover the wide range of light conditions you might get out there in the world, and the transition time for the lenses to change tint was unmanageably slow. That’s no longer the case, and the Tifosi Sledge sunglasses are a perfect example. The lenses on these guys can transition from 14-74% VLT (Visual Light Transmission, scroll to the end for a breakdown on that critical term), good enough for everything from bright sun to night-skiing. And in a world of $200 dollar-plus sunglasses, the $80 price point is a refreshing reminder that you don’t need to shell out the big bucks for high-quality optics. My only ding is the ventilation cut-outs at the brow and temples would be great for warmer-weather activities, but for downhilling can let a bit more air in than I’d like.CHECK PRICE ON TIFOSI
Best Aprés-Style Ski Sunglasses:
Pros: Style. These things look goooooood. Lenses are polarized with Anon’s Perceive tech for enhanced contrast.
Cons: Not a lot of coverage.
Lens Technology: 4
These things should get a six out of five for style. Especially in the white/red colorway. These guys have officially passed my classic Raybans for favorite “style-focused” sunglasses in my arsenal. The fact that they are also good for skiing is just icing on the cake. One interesting feature is the thin metal arms, which look great and sure make it’s easy to slip these sunglasses on and off, especially with a hat or helmet on. However, those thin arms do make the glasses prone to slippage when perched on top of the head, lacking the grip of a plastic arm. The lenses are great for skiing, using Anon’s Perceive polarized lens tech, and thin side shields provide some amount of side coverage, but certainly not as much as the higher-performance options above.CHECK PRICE ON Burton
Best Budget Ski Sunglasses:
Pros: Removable side shields provide extra coverage on the slopes but are easily removed for aprés/around town.
Cons: Lenses are polarized but not super high-tech. Side shields limit peripheral visibility.
Lens Technology: 4
Sunski’s Treeline sunglasses bridge the gap between stylish sunnies and slope-ready shredders. With removable side shields to protect from sun and snow, they score well on coverage but with a slight reduction in peripheral vision, not quite as well as the Wildcats above. I was very impressed by the lens technology these guys make use of. While the tint doesn’t quite make the colors pop as much as the Wildcats, for half the price, they do pretty well. Style-wise, they look good, and that speaks for itself. The same technology also comes in a square frame with the Sunski Coulior for those who prefer that shape of sunglasses. Sunski, as a company, also has a strong, sustainable bent, making these a feel-good purchase.
Other Sunglasses for Skiing That We Loved
We’ve tried a lot of ski sunglasses over the years, and above is just a smattering of our favorites. Below are some other options that we tested but didn’t quite make the cut. For other awesome styles, check out the options below, and while you’re at it, we’d also recommend the POC Aspire, which is more of a bike-oriented style of sunglasses, but with solid coverage, good style, great lens-tech and a comfortable fit. The Flywheels from Smith are another great wrap-around option from one of the biggest names in the game, as are the Oakley Sutro, and Sutro Light. We’re also doing our best to check out the all-new and fairly goggle-looking Smith Pursuit sunglasses, designed with pro skier and mountaineer, Cody Townsend. For quick transitions from ski functionality to aprés-style, check out the Smith Embark and the Oakley Clifden.
Best Ski Sunglasses for Small Faces:
Pros: Stylish as anything.
Cons: Don’t fit larger faces.
Lens Technology: 3
The Tifosi Sizzle sunglasses bring aprés-ski style in a slightly more protective-than-average frame. With a single, durable lens, they provide plenty of coverage for those with smaller faces. I found them to fit a little small on my face, both in terms of looks and in the coverage provided, but they fit great and looked good on the female members of my family, who both have narrower faces than me. And their style cannot be denied. The pink mirrored colorway is boisterous and fun, and if you’re looking for a more toned-down look, there are plenty of other colorways to choose from.
Unique Pick: Ombraz Dolomite ($140)
Pros: Cool no-arm sunglasses idea.
Cons: The string can be a little finicky with helmets/hats.
Lens Technology: 3
The Ombraz truly defies all categories when it comes to sunglasses. Not only do they have a piece of string instead of arms, but they also make damn good all-around action sports sunglasses. The string is an interesting concept. It works great for keeping the sunglasses on your face, is exceedingly comfortable, and makes the sunglasses very, very durable. With a helmet on, it can be tough to get the sunglasses off your face when you want to, but as far as a pair of uphillers for the backcountry go, these guys are great. The lens technology is similar to the Sunskis, with great polarization, but not the incredible ChromaPop of the Wildcats.
Cult Style: Pit Viper 2000s ($100)
Pros: Undeniable cachet.
Cons: Looks over performance.
Lens Technology: 3
No review of snowsports sunglasses would be complete without a pair of Pit Vipers. These iconically-styled sunglasses radiate pure ski bum attitude, the kind of shades you don for a game of G.N.A.R. with friends and family. And they’re not just media hype, but pretty well-made sunglasses with a durable polarized lens and durable frame. That said, there’s no ski-specific lens tech, so these don’t crack into our top picks.CHECK PRICE ON Pit Viper
Pros: Solid performance style, good lens tech, extra clear lens.
Cons: Leaves a gaper-gap with helmets.
Lens Technology: 4
Another option from Anon’s all-new performance sunglasses line, the Winderness provides great wrap-around coverage, has a clear lens for low light, and looks pretty darn good too. My biggest qualm was that they do not look good with a helmet on. At least for me, the thinner-profile frame left an enormous gaper gap with my helmet on, which was not an issue with other sunglasses I tested. If you’re the hat-wearing type, that shouldn’t be a problem.CHECK PRICE ON Burton
Pros: Solid style with performance features like removable leather side shields.
Cons: Doesn’t fit larger faces.
Lens Technology: 4
Based on the scoring criteria, these would be up there with the best of them. However, with my medium/large face, I had trouble getting these guys to fit, especially with the magnetic side shields. The shields clip onto the frame of the sunglasses and then have a small magnet that connects them to the arm of the sunglasses. On my face, the arms had to bend enough to disconnect that magnet, leaving the shields to flap around a bit. You can take the shields off, but then they’re just another pair of aviators, not truly ski sunglasses. For those with smaller faces, these would be a great premium step-up pick over the Sunski Treelines.CHECK PRICE ON Backcountry
|Sunglasses||Price (USD)||Overall Score||Additional Features|
|Poc Devour Glacial||$250||4.83/5||Swappable lenses|
|Smith Wildcat||$209||4.67/5||Swappable lenses|
|Sunski Treeline||$89||4/5||Removable side-shields|
|Tifosi Sledge (Fototec)||$80||4.16/5||Photochromic lenses (14-74% VLT)|
|Anon Advocate||$229||4/5||Polarized with Anon’s Perceive tech for enhanced contrast|
|Ombraz Dolomite||$140||3.66/5||Armless sunglasses|
|Pit Viper 2000s||$119||4/5||Pit Viper street-cred|
|Poc Nivalis||$200||4.33/5||Removable side-shields|
|Anon Winderness||$260||3.66/5||Swappable lenses|
|Tifosi Sizzle||$35||3.66/5||Cheap AF|
What Are the Different Types of Ski Sunglasses?
Not all ski sunglasses were created equally. There are a few different styles that have their respective pros and cons.
Wrap-around Sunglasses are often designed with cycling and mountain biking in mind, but they also make incredible snowsports sunglasses with full coverage and solid ventilation (but not too much). They don’t tend to be the most stylish, but some (like the Pit Vipers above) have embraced the dorkiness and have turned it into a style of their own.
Glacier Glasses bring retro style but also have incredible coverage with their side shields. You won’t have as great of a field of view as with cycling-style glasses, but for high-light environments (glaciers, the tops of mountains, and the like), that can actually be a plus.
Aprés Sunglasses bring more of a laid-back, modern-style frame, meaning less coverage, but they make up for it with snow-specific tints, overly durable frames and lenses, and devilish good looks.
Making sense of VLT and Lens Technology for Ski Sunglasses
VLT stands for Visual Light Transmission. Basically, it’s the amount of outside light that the sunglass lenses allow to reach your eyeballs. Expressed in percentages, a lower percentage means less light allowed in, which, in layman’s terms, translates to a darker lens. For cloudy days and flat light, you’ll want a higher VLT percentage to let in as much light as possible (and contrast-enhancing tech like Smith’s ChromaPop, Oakley’s Prizm, and others can help, too). For bluebird days or high-alpine glacial exploration, the lower the VLT, the better. To adapt to varied light conditions, some of the above sunglasses feature swappable lenses; others, like the Tifosi Sledge, make use of photochromic lenses which adapt to the light around them for the best tint.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.