“You see the shaded areas and the bright areas?” said Aksel Lund Svindal, pointing at the America’s Downhill course on Aspen Mountain just before the first men’s skier exited the starting gate to kick off the FIS World Cup Finals, ski racing’s premier event. “It makes it very difficult to see.” Svindal would know: Widely considered one of the greatest ski racers in history, the Norwegian athlete is accustomed to hurtling down icy slopes at speeds of up to 90 mph, a task that becomes exponentially more dangerous as visibility deteriorates.
Wayne Chumbley agrees. As the manager of Oakley’s Vision Performance Lab, he’s responsible for developing breakthroughs in eyewear technology to improve the performance of the brand’s sponsored athletes, like Svindal and American legend Lindsey Vonn — and for recreational snowsports athletes, too. During the Finals, Chumbley was posted up at the Oakley Science Lab in Wagner Park, downtown Aspen. There, he explained how the brand’s Prizm technology, found in Oakley’s entire range of snow-sports goggles, helps Svindal by eating up reflection and glare to produce an experience that highlights snow contours, bumps and textures. The technology took Oakley’s Research and Development 15 years to perfect.
“We’re sensitive to color in three specific regions,” Chumbley said. “We have a blue cone, a green cone and a red cone. We’re picking up those colors, but snow is giving us many other colors that create too much of what I call ‘bad light.’ With Prizm, we’re leveraging the areas where you’re sensitive to color and knocking down those other areas. What you get as a result is contrast. We’re doing with the lens what your eye won’t do naturally.”
The relationship between innovation in the lab and performance on the snow became clear at Oakley’s invite-only panel-turned-party at Casa Tua, a Northern Italian restaurant a few blocks from Aspen mountain. “Oakley Presents: Obsession x Innovation Exchange” featured Chumbley along with five of the greatest living skiers — Svindal, Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, Henrik Kristoffersen and Erik Guay — who spoke about the commitment required to be successful in such a physically and mentally demanding sport; this was especially true for Svindal and Vonn, who have had to recover from significant injuries suffered on the slopes.
For Svindal and the rest of the panel, working closely with sponsors to fine-tune their gear is every bit as important as training and racing — especially since a typical run only lasts about two minutes.
“You have to love skiing,” Svindal said. “Because there is a lot of skiing that has nothing to do with winning.”