Hit the Slopes: Protect Your Eyes During the Winter Months

When you see the sun’s reflection off the ocean or the pool at your favorite resort, you recognize that you need to protect your eyes. You know that summer months bring longer, more direct sunlight that can cause short- and long-term damage to your vision if you don’t take proper precautions.

But when the summer heat fades and makes way for flurries and blizzards, you might forget to protect your eyes. Though the sun takes a vacation from daylight hours in the winter, your eyes still need shelter from damaging reflections. When you understand the risks that a winter wonderland brings to your eyes, you’ll see the need to defend your vision.

Read the following tips to plan for eye protection this winter season.

Understand the Science Behind Potential Risks

Sunlight’s powerful rays pose a threat to even the healthiest eyes. Anyone who has ever experienced a sunburn across the eye’s surface recognizes the pain that too much sunlight can cause. Exposure to sunlight also puts you at risk for cataracts, macular degeneration, and eyelid cancer.

How does this happen? The sun emits two types of UV rays: UV-A and UV-B. The cornea and lens at the front of your eye absorb most of the light and pass the information on to your brain. But too much exposure to harmful UV rays can cause minor destruction to the retina or lens of your eye.

UV-A rays that are harder to absorb pose a threat to the macula at the back of your eye. In contrast, UV-B rays that don’t get absorbed by the lens can lead to clouding of the lens, or even small growths that block your vision.

Get Ready for Winter

You might assume that because the temperature drops in the winter, the sunlight must be less intense. Though the days grow shorter during the winter months, and the sun makes a shorter appearance, the snow and ice actually reflect more sunlight than summertime’s water features.

For example, a recent study shows that the snowpack can reflect up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays. Water, on the other hand, absorbs a much higher percentage of sunlight, so the surface of the lake or swimming pool takes in most the light and keeps it from reflecting into your eyes.

Sunlight reflected by the snow can also cause your eyes to water or catalyze a temporary jolt of blindness. So one instant without proper protection could cause you to run into other objects and scratch your eye’s delicate surface.

Protect Your Eyes in the Cold

To maintain your vision while you work or play in the cold, choose protective gear. Many ski and snowboard shops offer you a variety of options, such as:

  • Sunglasses: This option is the most versatile, but offers the least protection, since sunglasses only block sunlight that enters your eye from the front.With so many styles available, make sure you choose glasses that actually offer you protection-not just fashion. Check the label of your sunglasses for UV protection levels. If you only need to wear them while you shovel the walkway or commute to work, a pair with over 90% absorption should do the trick. If you plan for an entire day out on the slopes, however, 99-100% protection will shield your eyes the best for a longer period of time.
  • Goggles: Specially designed for skiers and boarders, goggles protect the front and sides of your eyes, but can cause discomfort with the elastic band. Some goggles with colored lenses may also cause eye strain if you wear them all day every day during an alpine vacation. When you outfit your family for skiing or sledding, choose goggles with the darkest color available, and check the fit for each person.
  • Visors: A hat or visor will help shade the sunlight from above, but it won’t deflect the reflected sunlight off the snow or sleet. Still, head protection will help guard you against sunburns to your eyes and the surrounding skin. Choose a visor with a broad brim that fits snugly on your head so you don’t have to worry about it blowing off when you reach high speeds on a sled or a snowmobile.
  • Helmets: Helmets, especially the models with built-in goggles, offer you the most complete protection. They not only block sunlight from all directions-they also protect your face from incoming flurries or shards of ice. Skiers and snowboarders will also feel more comfortable taking risks when they have a helmet to cushion their falls.

Check to make sure each member of your family has proper protection from sunlight and snow before you make definite plans. You’ll enjoy the winter months more when you avoid safety hazards to your eyes.

Time Your Outing

You can also avoid damaging rays through careful planning. If possible, try to hit the slopes early in the morning, or take advantage of many resorts’ night boarding deals. When you avoid skiing when the sun is highest, you minimize exposure to the sun.


Winter months give you a unique opportunity to interact with your family and enjoy the beauty of natural surroundings. Don’t let an eye injury or permanent eye damage ruin your ability to enjoy winter sports. Remember these suggestions the next time you pack up fora winter adventure, or for more serious concerns, talk to your eye doctor.