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Bob Smith, ski goggle inventor

Passing Date: 
Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bob Smith, the California orthodontist who invented the double-lens powder goggle, died in PalmDeserton April 18, 2012, from complications following surgery to implant a heart pacemaker. He was 78.

Robert Earl Smith grew up in San Carlos,Calif.and attended Stanford and the San Francisco College of Dentistry. While serving as an Army dentist in Wiesbaden,Germany, he skied each weekend at Kitzbuehel. He established a private practice in Marin Countyin 1960. With his wife Jean, he began skiing powder at Alta in 1965, where he figured out the principle of the fogging-resistant insulated double-lens goggle, with foam-screened ventilation ports to screen out powder.  The couple began manufacturing goggles in their kitchen, helped by a few powderhound friends.

Bob Smith skiing for Dick Barrymore, 1967

The goggles were an instant success, selling in part on Smith’s own reputation as an expert powder skier. Smith often sold  hand-made goggles to earn money for lift tickets. Dick Barrymore filmed him skiing Jackson Hole powder with Pepi Stiegler and Dr. Sam Southwick, for the 1967 film “The Last of the Ski Bums.” (See the sequence here.)

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the fog-free double lens. Powder skiing was difficult enough to learn on the narrow, straight skis of the era, but skiing in a storm, or even getting face shots, meant skiing blind, behind fogged or snow-filled goggles. Smith opened up a world of powder chutes and, especially, tree skiing. It became possible to ski 2000 feet of vertical without stopping to clear the lens.

The technology was widely licensed and Smith clones soon became the standard design for both ski and motorsport goggles. Settling in Sun Valley, Dr. Bob continued to pursue powder, and his second great passion, flying. 

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