KETCHUM, Idaho–Robert Earl Smith, an orthodontist whose passion for skiing deep powder snow helped turn him into a goggle and sunglasses pioneer, has died of complications related to heart surgery.
Smith’s family confirmed his April 18 death in California. He was 78.
Born in San Carlos, California, Smith went on to graduate from Stanford University and the San Francisco College of Dentistry.
Smith served as a dentist in the U.S. Army in Germany in the late 1950s. While there, he traveled to the Kitzbuehel ski area every weekend, stoking his passion for the sport.
After enduring frustrating goggle-fogging experiences while skiing in Utah, Smith in the 1960s began developing prototypes for an advanced pair of goggles to solve the problem. Smith sat at the kitchen table with his wife Jean, using dental tools and foam to create a double-lensed, vented ski goggle whose inner lens was protected from the cold.
“The goggle really just came out of his need to see while skiing deep powder,” his son Drew Smith told the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper. “Everyone else just got to benefit from it.”
He patented his invention, which is now considered the industry standard.
Smith founded Smith Sport Optics in 1965 and established its headquarters in Ketchum, Idaho, in the early 1970s. Before he struck a deal to manufacture Smith goggles, however, he often would trade his goggles for lift tickets.
He sold the company in 1991.
Smith Optics Inc. sells its products in 50 countries and reports having a 45-percent share of the ski and snowboard goggle market in North America, making it the top manufacturer.