Eye Safety for Skiers and Snowboarders

Eye Safety for Skiers and Snowboarders

In many places throughout the world, January comes with some seriously cold and snowy winter weather. While the weather can be depressing, there is an up side – snow provides the playground for winter sports. If you’re lucky enough to live near steep enough hills, there’s no better holiday vacation than a ski trip.

By now you’ve no doubt heard plenty of tips for keeping yourself safe on the slopes – stick to marked trails, ski with a buddy, watch out for tree boles – but you may not have gotten all the information you need to keep your eyes safe. We’re here to fix that. Read on, and we’ll walk you through a few tips to make sure you’re set to ski or snowboard.

Eye Safety for Skiers and SnowboardersSeriously, Wear a Helmet

Here’s one that you’ve heard at least a hundred times. But it really is important. Let’s not forget that skiing or snowboarding does have you rushing down a mountain at high speed, dodging various obstacles all the while. A collision with a tree, rock, or other skier can cause massive damage to an unhelmeted head. Even an innocent fall onto snow can easily give you a concussion if you’ve decided to leave the helmet at home.

There are many, many reasons that concussions should have you concerned, but we’ll focus on one for now. A sharp blow to the head can cause some short-term visual effects, and possibly even direct injury to the eye, but problems don’t always stop there. The full ramifications of a concussion are still far from being fully understood, but there’s some evidence that a concussion can permanently impair vision. Some sufferers report losing some of their ability to focus on near-field items. In short, a concussion can vault your eyes into middle age in one fell stroke. So no complaints about how dorky it looks or how uncomfortable it is – wear that helmet.

Sun Safety

Sun safety doesn’t necessarily sound like much of a winter thing. In fact, the phrase probably conjures thoughts of beaches and sunscreen more than it does snow. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t run into some serious sun-related trouble while skiing; you need to take steps to protect your eyes during the winter too.

Anyone who’s spent some time slopeside can tell you how important tinted lenses are out there. Glare is a massive problem in any situation, and can quickly ruin your day if you don’t find some way to fight it. That goes double for skiers and snowboarders. If glare’s a nuisance at the beach, it’s a serious hazard in the snow. Snow, as you may have noticed, is white. While that does help make it more festive, it also makes it more reflective. Instead of absorbing sunlight, it bounces it back up. On a bright day you could look just about anywhere, and still feel as if you’re staring right at the sun.

And there are some major consequences beyond simple discomfort. Unprotected eyes are at serious risk of developing photokeratitis, usually called snowblindness. Photokeratitis is a painful problem caused by overexposure of the eyes to UV radiation, and can be thought of as a severe sunburn to sensitive ocular tissues. It’s a condition that’s often compared to having sand in your eyes and, painfulness aside, can also hamper your ability to perceive other risks while skiing.

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Mind the Height

Getting up into the mountains can do you a world of good, but that increase in altitude can also be cause for concern. While you likely won’t be encountering many of the symptoms of mountain sickness at commercial resorts (almost all of them are too low to really put you at risk), there are a couple of things to look out for anyway.

Chief among them is dry eye. Air at altitude, particularly cold air, isn’t great at retaining moisture. As a result, it’s easy to wind up with a parched pair of orbs. Eye dryness can cause extreme discomfort if left alone. Do yourself a favor, and carry some eye drops along with you. Contact wearers in particular need to address this issue. There’s nothing quite like a dried up lens popping out of your eye mid-run.

Hazardous Environment

One of the biggest and most common-sense eye threats on the mountain is the mountain itself. Skiers and snowboarders can reach impressive speeds in short order. At 20 miles an hour, just about everything can cause harm to an unprotected eye. A tree branch, flailing ski pole, or shard of ice can all do some pretty gut-churning things if they hit the wrong spot. Blunt injury to the eye can cause bruising, bleeding, fractured orbitals, and a long list of things best not discovered first hand.

As a result, it’s extremely important to find a pair of protective lenses. This ties in nicely with the sun safety point we discussed above, as most skiers and snowboarders need some form of sun protection just to see on the slopes. But not all lenses are created equal. You’re sure to see plenty of people with garden-variety sunglasses out there. They might look good, and they might feel less bulky than purpose-designed goggles, but you should still avoid them. Why? Because they might protect you from the sun, but they do a lousy job fending off physical threats.

In fact, they often add to them. A fall on packed snow is bad enough already, but add in the plastic shards from a pair of shattered aviators, and you’ve set yourself up for a penetrating eye injury. It’s best to swallow your pride, and go find a good pair of ski goggles. Your eyes will thank you.

Stay Safe!

That wraps up our list! Hopefully it’s enough to keep your eyes healthy this winter, no matter what you’re up to. Even while off the slopes, be sure to take care of your eyes – after all, good vision comes in handy when you’re out skiing.

About the Author

Avatar for Tyler Sorensen

Tyler Sorensen is the President and CEO of Rebuild Your Vision. Formerly, Tyler studied Aeronautics with the dreams of becoming an airline pilot, however, after 9/11 his career path changed. After graduating top of his class with a Bachelor of Science degree in Informational Technologies and Administrative Management, he and his brother decided to start Rebuild Your Vision in 2002. With the guidance of many eye care professionals, including Behavioral Optometrists, Optometrists (O.D.), and Ophthalmologists (Eye M.D.), Tyler has spent over a decade studying the inner workings of the eye and conducting research.

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