“Expensive, dorky, effective,” read the email subject header from my local co-conspirator in skiing and biking forays. A partner who clearly knows how to pique my interest!
“You might be into these. I saw them on an Olympic xc skier and googled them out of curiosity. They’ve got some funky flip-up feature that could shave your transition times…”
Anything to save precious seconds on my transitions! Okay, seriously though (although the walk-ski switch on my DyNA boots is a wonder to behold), I really like to be able to use the same eyewear for both the up and the down. Plus for all my nordic skate skiing, the ups and downs are constantly trading places.
For late spring and early summer backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering, I’ve always just been, ahh, “borrowing” my wife’s glacier glasses from our 2001 Chamonix honeymoon. But for the winter, as of last fall my regular sunglasses collection was getting desperate: my trusty sunglasses that I got back in 1993 had finally broken, ditto for a pair of sunglasses I’d noticed lying by the side of a trail while skinning up a closed ski resort a few years ago, my wife’s sunglasses from college (she graduated in . . . 1992) had poor contrast in low-light conditions, and ditto for that pair of sunglasses I found while xc skiing on the local bike path.
I bought the Rudy Sportmask in part because of their strong support of the National Ski Patrol, and the shields have been great even for fairly cold and long backcountry ski days (with my goggles stowed away all day), but even light snow often is too much for them to handle. (Or as my previously referenced partner inquired at the very beginning of a gloppy day, “Umm, can you, ahh, see?”)
Enter the Casco shield. I was enticed by an old review I found, so I contacted the the distributor to order a pair.
The shield arrived almost immediately. The current version now comes with only one single lens, which indoors looks almost perfectly clear, but out in the sun they became very dark and provided the perfect amount of lens transmission. Skinning and skiing with them was perfect: the goggle-type elastic band kept them in place, and the field of vision was expansive. Although I haven’t used them yet in demanding weather conditions, fogging resistance must be superb, given the unrestricted airflow, yet their shape should also keep snow from getting on the inside of the lens. Plus you can easily just flip up the shield out of the way.
Just one problem: the fit with my Giro Fuse helmet wasn’t very good, and the fit with the Kong Scarab helmet . . . well, it essentially didn’t fit. I emailed my impressions to Joe. Turns out that model isn’t designed to work with a helmet. Oh, I guess I should have told him that when backcountry skiing (as opposed to nordic skiing) I wear a helmet. But, ah hah, he also has the Casco Spirit Competition model. This arrived with the same photochromatic lens, along with a nearly clear lens.
And indeed, the fit with helmets turns out to be just fine. The performance in difficult weather conditions? Well, we finally came through with a massive storm system, eventually over four feet as measured at a resort near where I was backcountry skiing partway through the storm. About two feet had already fallen when I left my car in the morning, and I returned to find my car covered in about 10 inches of snow, the same snow that had been pounding me in the woods all day. I completely soaked through my Marmot Glide softshell gloves in the first three hours, then did the same thing to my backup pair over the next three hours. My Patagonia Traverse softshell jacket wetted out, causing me to add a MontBell vest and then a MontBell jacket in addition to that — so much layering is very rare for me. My Schoeller Dryskin pants were just barely hanging in there.
Sounds like goggle weather, right? Nope — I wore the Casco shield the entire time, with absolutely no fogging, and absolutely no snow/water getting underneath the lens. Sunglasses (even more typical shield styles) would have been worthless after the very first skin of the day (up an open slope at a nearby resort), and goggles would have fogged up on every subsequent ascent. But the Casco shield stayed clear.
Downside? All I can think of is that the shield is a bit bulky if for some reason you need to put it away in your pack. (The included case is great for travel, but way too massive for use in the field.) And the neat-o flip-up feature is negated by helmet use.
Otherwise, for winter and early spring use, from now it’s the Casco shield, while the sunglasses and goggles stay at home.
(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or promoting the NE Rando Race Series, he works as a financial economics consultant.)