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Avoid High Altitude Sickness on Your Ski/Snowboard Vacation
You’ve planned the winter vacation you’ve always dreamed of. He heads west to the Rocky Mountains for a week of powder skiing. The bags are packed, the gear is loaded and you can’t wait to hit the slopes.
He flies to Salt Lake International Airport (5,000 meters) from his sea-level home. It’s really cool to be able to leave your home, come here and do a few runs in the afternoon when you arrive. What could be better? You get your rental car and drive up into the canyon to the 8,000-foot base-level resort, hop on the elevator, and travel up to 10,000 feet. Go for a few runs, have a few cocktails and a nice dinner, once you’re done skiing, you’re on vacation after all
You don’t feel well the next morning. You are lazy, nauseous, with a headache and maybe a little short of breath. What a bad time for the flu! It feels a lot like the flu or a hangover, but you’re probably suffering from altitude sickness.
Altitude sickness can affect anyone, whether an adult or a child, when traveling from a lower level to a higher one. Not everyone suffers from it, and it’s relatively easy to avoid and keep it from ruining your vacation.
Here are some tips to help you feel your best:
- Hydrate. Drink twice as much water as you think you should, especially if you’re coming from sea level. Start hydrating before you arrive, flying will dehydrate you too. Take water with you to the mountain, either a water bottle or a hydration system, like a “camel’s back”. Use bottled water if you absolutely must, but water from mountain taps will probably taste better!
- Avoid dehydration. Yes, drink the fluids mentioned above, but avoid dehydrating substances such as caffeine, salt, and alcohol. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an apres ski cocktail, just take it easy, especially on your first night at altitude.
- Eat carbs. Carbohydrates actually require less oxygen for metabolism and digestion. Don’t worry about calories, you’ll burn them on the mountain, and carbs will help fuel that.
- Slow. If at all possible, plan to spend the first night at a lower point in town and not at 10,000 feet. If you set aside a night for acclimatization, it will help your body adapt a lot. Have a good dinner, attend a concert, explore the city. Plan ahead what you will do on your first night on the town. Chances are, everyone will be tired from the trip anyway.
If it is not possible to spend a night lower, at least rest on the mountain for the first day. Take your time to get your snow legs back and explore the mountain on easy steps. Save the black diamonds for later.
There are also drugs and energy drinks on the market that claim to prepare you for the higher level and eliminate the adjustment period. I’ve never heard of them working, nor have I talked to many people who have used them.
Other suggestions I’ve seen to help prepare for an altitude trip include iron supplements or taking Ginkgo. There is no science behind any of this, but there is some logic to it. Iron helps the body produce more hemoglobin, which is usually seen in people living at higher altitudes. Gingko increases circulation, which means more blood circulates, carrying more oxygen throughout the body.
Altitude sickness is usually harmless and short-lived. As your body adjusts to the altitude, you will feel better. This takes time, and you don’t want to spend your ski vacation feeling lousy and unable to ski. The best way to prevent and ward off discomfort is to stay hydrated. Stay hydrated before your ride and especially on the mountain. It may be cold outside, but you do a lot of activities that use up these fluids.
If hydration and rest do not resolve the situation, you should seek medical attention. Many ski centers have clinics or ski guards who are skilled in the treatment of altitude sickness. You might have the flu!
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