Eyewear brand debuts sun-ready ski goggles

Zeal unveiled a new type of goggles at this year's SIA show. Photo courtesy of Zeal.

Zeal unveiled a new type of goggles at this year’s SIA show. Photo courtesy of Zeal.

Grandpa isn’t the only one with glasses that darken when the sun peeks behind the clouds.

Boulder-based Zeal Optics unveiled new ski goggles last month with lenses that change hue based on the light – and the company hopes the new product will make interchangeable lenses obsolete.

“Companies have been focusing on making lenses that are easy to swap out of frames,” Zeal spokesman Mike Lewis said. “Rather than do that, we have just one lens that changes for you. The fastest lens change is the one you never make.”

The new lenses combine two fairly standard features to make a unique product: photochromic lenses and polarized materials.

Photochromic lenses darken in tint to block out light depending on how bright an environment is (think transitions glasses). Polarized lenses work to block out glare by cutting the tops and bottoms out of light waves.

Combining the two technologies makes them more effective than if they were introduced alone, Lewis said.

“We made some photochromic lenses that weren’t polarized and we found they weren’t what you need for on-snow conditions,” Lewis said. “With polarization, it buffers incoming light to make the lenses more sensitive. It also speeds up the time of the reaction.”

Zeal first released the lenses in September for the 2015-2016 season, but the new products, released at SIA for 2016-2017, are sturdier and more effective than their predecessor, Lewis said.

The company has increased the thickness of the lenses by 50 percent, making them more rigid and durable, Lewis said. It also introduced new anti-fogging technology that is integrated into the lens itself, rather than a spray-on solution used by most optics companies.

The new lenses retail for $150 without a frame and $260 for full goggles.

Husband-and-wife team Michael and Wink Jackson founded Zeal Optics in Moab, Utah, in 1996 to build technical eyewear for mountain bikers, Lewis said. The company moved to its current digs at 1230 Spruce St. in Boulder in the late 2000s. At that point it began experimenting with high-tech goggles, including adding gadgets like GPS and cameras into its equipment.

Sunglasses company Maui Jim purchased Zeal five years ago, Lewis said. Maui Jim rebranded Zeal, which had previously been geared toward hardcore athletes, to be more accessible to the average consumer along the lines of optics companies Smith, Dragon and Oakley.

The company currently employs nine staffers and distributes to 19 companies worldwide, but its biggest sales territory is the American West, Lewis said. In Denver, you can find Zeal goggles in Confluence Kayaks or Christy’s Sports.

Zeal unveiled a new type of goggles at this year's SIA show. Photo courtesy of Zeal.

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