One of the defining points of outdoor specialty retail is that it is where customers can go to discover what’s truly new. Local shop owners are the ones who often take the risk to bring in a small, start-up brand, differentiating themselves from the big boys. In this reoccurring series, SNEWS will identify and highlight the new kids on the outdoor block vying for a place on those shelves.
Ten years ago, Dave McCulloch begrudgingly called it a day at Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort, 70 miles outside of Portland. His legs felt fine and the conditions were decent, but with the temperature hovering right around dew point, he couldn’t clear the fog from his goggles.
McCulloch’s fog problem is one known all too well to skiers and riders in the Pacific Northwest and other areas where temperatures linger near 30 degrees. Cold, ambient air on the outside of the goggle hits the warm air emanating from inside causing fog to form in the small, terrarium-like space around the face.
Back at his car, skis loaded up and the vehicle in reverse, McCulloch looked out his back windshield, only to see that it too had a fog covering. But now, all he did was hit a button, heat up the glass and 30 seconds later he could see. Drawing the parallel between the end of his ski day and the quick fix at his car, McCulloch had a light-bulb moment: attach the same technology from his windshield to the goggle frame and fog would no longer be a problem.
He headed to an auto parts store to look for a similar fog-clearing device, only to be intimidated by the “wires and gizmos [it had]. I thought, ‘I know what to do, I just don’t know how to do it,’” he said. “And I just gave up.”
Bringing it to life
Nothing came of McCulloch’s idea until three years ago when he mentioned it to his friend, Howard Russell, who works as an intellectual property lawyer. Russell let McCulloch know that he couldn’t patent an idea without a prototype to back it up, and suggested that he talk with Jack Cornelius, who worked in intellectual property protection. That’s when the project picked up steam.
Finding no similar anti-fog options on the goggle market, Cornelius got to work, and after much trial and error, figured out a way to make a transparent, heat-conductive film that lies between the inner and outer lenses. The push of a button located near the right temple activates a battery and the patented Klair technology, which sends a current through the film, heating the temperature of the lens to just above dew point. Within 30 seconds, the fog is gone—no fans, vents or wiping required.
Called the F-BOM (“F” as in fog), the goggle features a Carl Zeiss, toric lens in addition to its fog-clearing technology. “When you’re a new goggle company, people are going to ask you about optics. We have Carl Zeiss as a partner; it’s going to put that question to bed,” Cornelius said.
F-BOM users have two modes to chose from: Active, which is always on and has enough battery life to last up to seven hours, and Boost, which offers an immediate 10-minute power surge before turning off, allowing the battery to last up to seven days.
After officially naming the company Abominable Labs, McCulloch, Cornelius and Russell turned to Kickstarter not just to raise $50,000 in startup funds, but also to get the word out about their product. “We got a lot of press,” said Cornelius, noting that even if the effort hadn’t been fully funded, “we consider the Kickstarter program an amazing success.”
How it’s different
Most anti-fog goggles on the market today put a hydrophilic coating on the lens, which acts like a sponge, sucking up the water from the air and turning it into a flat layer of water against the lens. The problem with the coating, however, is that it’s water-soluble. If the user rubs the lens in an attempt to clear the condensation, he’ll “be wiping that coating right off,” Cornelius said.
“All these other goggles have instructions like, ‘If you clean the lens, do it with tap water.’ Or ‘don’t let it get wet.’ It’s just not very realistic, so you buy a pair of goggles, and the first couple times on the mountain they might work pretty well, but the quality of the anti-fog deteriorates pretty fast,” Cornelius said.
Another downside of current anti-fog options is that though many claim to be made completely from polycarbonate, most use a thin layer of acetate on the inside of the lens. That acetate provides something for the hydrophilic coating to stick to, since it won’t adhere to the polycarbonate. Unfortunately though, acetate is a soft, easily scratched plastic. Because Abominable Labs’ anti-fog technology isn’t a coating, the F-BOM is able to have polycarbonate surfaces for both the inner and outer lenses.
Where it’s going
The brand began in snowsports quite simply “because I’m a skier,” McCulloch said, but the Klair technology has applications in realms beyond skiing and snowboarding. Rattling off a collection of industries — tactical, medical, paintball, BMX, motocross, scuba diving, swim goggles, industrial applications, and “anywhere a goggle may be used where fogging might be a problem”— Abominable Labs wants the world to know it’s open to licensing its technology.
“We want to be noticed for good engineering and we want to show the world that we can produce the product and get it into the retail stores,” McCulloch said.
In addition to selling direct to consumers through its website, Abominable Labs also hopes to partner with smaller retailers willing to take the time to explain the technology. “We just feel like you do need to explain to people what this product does and why you should use it,” Cornelius said.
-- Courtney Holden
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