When it comes to winter sports and lifestyles, having excellent products for your eyes and noggin is at a premium. Whether it’s shredding the gnar with laps up on the mountain, going deep in the backcountry, or simply strolling with the dog on the bike path, having protection, function, and style is always important.
Smith Optics was born way back in 1965 when orthodontist and original ski bum Dr. Bob Smith developed the first sealed thermal lens and breathable vent foam. His handmade product quickly gained word-of-mouth traction when he began selling them out of his van on ski trips in Utah and Colorado. Four years later the Smith Original ski goggle was formally created with a refined design and manufacturing plan in Rifle, Colorado with a contract manufacturer. The rest, as they say, is history. With countless innovations in goggle, sunglass, and helmet technology (such as the industry’s first snow goggle with intuitively interchangeable lenses) we have arrived at present day in which Smith Optics continues to evolve and lead the charge of the mountain sports eyewear and headwear game.
Here at BigLife we were lucky enough to recently get our hands on some of the newest offerings that Smith has rolled out for the current winter season and beyond. Below are our thoughts on these fresh pieces of gear from first-hand product tests in the Rocky Mountain playground of Sun Valley, Idaho.
Squad MAG Goggle
The first thing you notice when you put this goggle on is astonishingly high-quality of the lens. The Squad MAG is built with Smith’s patented ChromaPop lens technology which enhances contrasts and natural colors in the terrain in front of you to literally make all the details pop. The lens comes in a variety of different options for tints and colors and we first hit the slopes on a bluebird November day with the Sun Green Mirror lens which is a go-to for bright conditions. On runs that were in the sun the ability to pick out features in the snow was unsurprisingly flawless. And the glare of the sunshine was dampened to just the right amount, not too much and not too little. But where the performance of this lens really blew us away was on runs that were in the dark shadows of the mountain and late in the short early winter day. Even when things got downright dark and the light was considerably flatter, this “sunny day” lens performed flawlessly. Aside from the harsh transitions from bright to dark that lasted only for a few seconds, features such as bumps, ice patches, corduroy, powder, and rocks were all still easy to pick out before being right on top of them. We also switched to the Everyday Rose Gold Mirror lens, which is made mainly for partly cloudy days, for testing in the same sunny conditions. One of our testers has specifically struggled with having good vision in darker, flat light scenarios. She was amazed at the ability of this lens to give her much better vision in dark areas than any other lens she’s had in the past, even including stormy day specific lenses. This is a true testament to the performance of ChromaPop. As for ventilation, each lens has built-in Airflow technology and features Smith’s signature 5X anti-fog inner lens for advanced fog-free performance. The patented AirEvac helmet integration design also ensures for no fogging up even on the sloppiest of days. More on that later.
Aside from the standpoint of vision performance, the Squad MAG lenses are all made using Cylindrical Carbon-x technology for refined clarity and impact resistance. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of trying to carry too much gear to my car one morning and dropped the goggle on the pavement lens side down. Despite there being numerous scratches on the left side of the lens, my eyes could not detect them in my field of vision while in use. Another major plus in the design is the oversized style allowing for excellent peripheral vision Smith’s Responsive Fit frame technology that adjusts to the face for precision and comfort. All the goggles that I’ve used in the past have never stayed in place perfectly. I am pleased to honestly say that the Squad MAG stays in place on my face over an entire day on the mountain. On the style side, these things just look cool. And like the lenses, the frames come in a variety of color options.
Why is it called the Squad MAG you might ask? MAG refers to the lens change system that uses magnets for some of the quickest and easiest lens changes we’ve ever had the privilege of making (equal to that of the Rail Lock system on Zeal’s hatchet goggle). To remove, you simply pop out the two levers on each lower outside corner of the frame and pull the entire lens out. To install, drop the other lens onto the frame with a satisfying magnetic “click” into place and pop the levers back in. Each Squad MAG goggle comes with a replacement storm lens so if the conditions look like they might switch from sun to dark clouds and pounding snow, bringing it along and changing it out is not a problem. $220 – $250
Men’s Altus Helmet + Women’s Vida Helmet
As far as helmets go, the Altus and Vida are made to accommodate any skier or rider who demands superior comfort and protection on stormy powder days and bluebird carver days alike. The first thing I noticed pulling the Altus on my head was just how light and low profile it is compared to most other all-around helmets on the market (a size medium comes in at a mere 16 oz). I have a bigger dome than most and at first I was a bit alarmed at how snug the fit was in my size large. Our female tester experienced the same concern. After several runs the helmet seemed to adjust (or maybe it was just us) and we had no signs of a dreaded pinch headache and were nice and comfy. Both feature lightweight in-mold construction that fuses the exterior shell and EPS foam for a one-piece design that’s both lightweight and durable. To customize the fit, the patented VaporFit Snow adjustment system offers a 27-degree range of tension with a one-handed turn of the dial at the back.
Being that the primary point of wearing a helmet in the first place is safety, Smith designed the Altus and Vida with noggin protection being the number one priority. Originating from their trademark Aerocore technology first seen in their cycling helmets, these helmets also feature Zonal Koroyd coverage for lightweight, energy-absorbing, and ventilated impact protection. And just like all modern day cycling helmets, they both boast the MIPS Brain Protection System which reduces rotational forces caused by angled impacts to the head.
Other notable features of these helmets include Regulator climate control allowing the wearer to open and close an air vent at the top with one hand, XT2 antimicrobial lining with sweat-activated odor control, removable audio-compatible ear pads, and the AirEvac ventilation system that integrates with Smith goggles for fog-free lenses. When pairing the Altus or Vida with the Squad MAG goggle as we did, I can confirm that the integration is exceptional and fogging never occurred. Well done Smith. $150 – $180
Women’s Monterey Sunglasses
At first glance the Monterey for women may look like just another stylish pair of casual shades, but they are actually packed with performance features for no matter what the chosen form of recreation may be. The frame is lightweight and ultra-durable. It’s made with Smith’s trademarked Evolve bio-based material and AutoLock hinges that hold the frame open for easy on-and-offs with a single hand. To keep these shades attached to the face no matter how hectic things get, Megol temple and nose pads provide nonslip grip. The Monterey treats the eyes to enhanced contrast and glorious natural colors thanks to ChromaPop lenses and an anti-reflective coating that improves clarity and reduces eye strain. And finally, a smudge and moisture resistant coating allows for easy cleaning and extra visual clarity. The Monterey is certainly a sharp pair of shades that can do it all in style and is available in a variety of frame and lens color options. $149 – $179
Men’s Lowdown 2 Sunglasses
As with the Monterey’s, the Lowdown 2 sunglasses could easily be mistaken for just a stylish pair of lifestyle shades and nothing more. And in fact, the style of the lowdown is timeless. They could be from the mid 1960s when Smith was incubating to present day and still be pulled off flawlessly. But these are about more than just the look. In fact, they pack many of the same performance features as the Monterey. The Evolve bio-based frame is lightweight and durable and eco-friendly. Megol nose pads provide extra non-slip grip. Ultimate clarity of vision and glare protection is achieved with ChromaPop lenses and a smudge and moisture resistant coating for easy cleaning. The lenses on the Lowdown 2 are also carbonic which gives them superior impact resistance and clear optics. This pair of shades is an instant classic that can perform with the best of them. Available in all kinds of cool frame and lens color options. $99 – $179