What you Need to Know About Skiing and Snowboarding in Flat Light

mammoth flat light

To a beginner, an expert rider looks unstoppable when they’re flying down the slopes. However, there is one thing that can stop everyone from a beginner to the best skiers and snowboarders in the world, flat light.

In most cases flat light isn’t a major issue because the terrain isn’t dangerous enough for it to cause serious problems. However, if a skier or snowboarder is progressing towards riding expert terrain or in the backcountry then it is important to understand flat light so you can avoid accidents caused by it. The ASO Mammoth team has put together a short guide to help you understand flat light and stay safe if you encounter it. Check it out below before your next trip to Mammoth!

What is Flat Light?

Flat light occurs when fog, snow, or overcast skies block sunlight from reaching the part of the mountain you’re on. That may not sound like a big deal, but in these conditions slopes become featureless which means you could ride into a bump or something worse without ever seeing it.

Why is it Dangerous?

Our eyes rely on contrast in order to see depth and detail. When there isn’t enough light reaching the slope there are no shadows to create contrast in the snow and as a result the entire slope looks featureless and smooth. For most people, this means they can’t see bumps or ice until they ride over them, but if you’re in the backcountry then you could fail to see a drop in front of you due to the sky and snow being matching shades of white. In the worst conditions, it can even cause disorientation and vertigo by taking away a person’s sense of direction, which is why our next point is so important.

How to Deal with Flat Light

Fortunately, there are ways to safely ride in flat light.

One of the easiest ways to ski or snowboard in these conditions is to change the elevation of where you’re riding. Flat light often occurs on lower parts of the mountain where a combination of cloud cover, fog, and snow result in a lack of light. If you’re able to move above the cloud cover or at least to where the visibility is better.

Another simple option is to simply change the terrain you’re riding by heading towards trees. Remember, you need contrast for your eyes to pick up depth and shadows, and thanks to their dark colors and shadows trees provide plenty of contrast.

You can also combat flat light conditions with the right set of goggles, or, specifically, the right set of lenses. Flat light is caused by there not being enough sunlight, so if you’re wearing dark lenses in your ski goggles that are absorbing most of the little light available then you’re only going to make things hard for yourself. If you know that you could find yourself in flat light conditions, switch out your dark lenses for lighter ones such as those colored yellow, green, or rose.

Lighter lenses give your eyes more light to work with even on a regular cloudy day, they can make a huge difference on how well you’re able to get down the mountain.

See our Handy Guide to Goggles article here

Lastly, always check the weather ahead of your day on the mountain to make sure you’re prepared for whatever the weather has to throw at you!

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