April 17th, 2014
By Phyl Newbeck
When you watch freeride skiing pioneer Glen Plake, the first question that probably comes to mind is how does he keep his trademark Mohawk so high. We can’t answer that one, but we can answer any question you might have about his eyewear.
Plake wears goggles made by a company called Julbo, whose U.S. office is based right here in Williston. Plake isn’t the only famous athlete to sport Julbos. High-altitude mountaineer Ed Viesturs, who recently became the first American to climb all 14 of the world’s highest mountains without supplemental oxygen, wears its mountaineering glasses.
Julbo is a third generation French optical company that started in the 1850s making shades for crystal hunters in the Alps who were searching for gems to bring down the mountain to the tourists. The company’s headquarters is in Europe, but in 1974, Climb High of Shelburne began distributing Julbo’s products in the U.S. In 2002, Nick Yardley set up shop in Williston to create Julbo USA, the exclusive distributor of Julbo eyewear in this country. The Williston location serves as an office and warehouse distribution center. All the company’s domestic shipping is done from its Avenue D location.
Yardley said the company’s biggest impact has been in the mountaineering market, creating glasses for those summiting major peaks like Mount Everest. Three years ago, Julbo began to manufacture ski goggles and now it also carries performance sunglasses for runners, mountain bikers and other athletes, as well as prescription glasses. The company has also added a line of high quality children’s sunglasses. Yardley noted that while adults are aware of the need to protect their eyes from harmful rays, they often neglect to protect their children, whose eyes are significantly more sensitive.
Yardley said the company’s biggest strength is its photochromatic lenses, which change from light to dark depending on the UV light.
“There has been a strong emphasis on interchangeable lenses in the sports world,” he said “but that’s very dysfunctional because you don’t have time to change lenses when you’re cycling from a field into a forest or skiing from bright light into fog.”
Previously, photochromatic lenses were made with a coating, which fades over time, but Julbo’s product has the dye within the lens so it can’t scratch, burn off or fade. Yardley used the example of a ski patroller who starts his or her morning with trail checks in dim light and then skis through the day under bright sunlight before ending his or her shift with a sweep run which might be in the dark.
“They can use these goggles all day long in white-out and bluebird bright skies,” he said. “It becomes a very versatile tool for the serious outdoor user.”
Locally, Julbo products can be purchased at Outdoor Gear Exchange, EMS and the Optical Center on Church Street. The latter specializes in children’s eyewear and prescription products. Julbo USA is involved in a variety of local events, including the summer trail running series at Catamount Family Center. This year, they will also sponsor a new event called the Catamount Ultra, a 50-kilometer trail run at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe.
Serena Wilcox of Burlington, the first woman to cross the finish line at the annual 100-mile trail run in Windsor in 2011, is a believer. She wears a wide assortment of Julbo products including “everyday glasses” and ones designed for hiking, running and biking.
“I love the way they change from darker to lighter depending on the light I am in,” she said. “The glasses fit my face well, are lightweight and are great for trail running and biking.”
Andrea Charest, owner of Petra Cliffs in Burlington, also swears by Julbo sunglasses for rock and ice climbing and ski touring.
“The way they change color is perfect for every condition in the mountains,” she said.
One of New England’s top alpine climbers, Kevin Mahoney of New Hampshire, agrees.
“Julbo has been great for me for the simple reason of laziness,” he said. “I like putting on my sunglasses in the morning and leaving them on all day. Simplicity and performance is the best combination.”