Dealing with Altitude Sickness
There are a few things that can really crimp the style of a well-intentioned ski vacation: Travel problems, lack of
snow, freezing cold weather at the resort, and an unpleasant surprise in your lodging accommodations top the
list. One, however, can really create misery if it decides to rear its head in full force: Altitude Sickness.
Simply put, altitude sickness is the body’s inability to get enough oxygen at high altitudes. Most of us live at
elevations of 500 – 5,500 feet. While someone who lives at 500 feet may feel a bit short of breath when
exercising in Denver (5,000 feet), that isn’t what we mean by altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can be a more
violent reaction of the body to altitudes generally higher than 8,000 feet. That violent reaction usually includes
nausea and other flu-like symptoms.
Altitude sickness can strike in many different ways. Mild cases may simply be insomnia and shortness of breath.
Severe cases, as mentioned above, may reduce someone to the condo bedroom for part of the vacation.
While many homeopathic enthusiasts will disagree with us, we think seeing your doctor to get anti-altitude
sickness medication is smart if you have been stricken before. Most medications will require you to begin taking it
a day or two prior to being at a high altitude. We have personally seen many people who used to be debilitated at
altitudes above 10,000 feet transform into energetic and excited skiers after taking the medication.
For milder cases, here are a few tips that seem to be universal:
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol saps your body of fluids and can sap your energy level even without altitude problems
- Acclimate gradually. Skiing hard for a day at 12,000 feet is no way to get used to the altitude. Spend the first
day skiing lightly on the bottom third of the mountain, and work your way up gradually.
- Be in shape. A body that is in good physical condition will likely experience fewer negative effects from the
- Listen to your body. If at 2pm your lungs burn and you feel a bit lightheaded, take a break. Or even stop for the
day. This is vacation – keep it fun.
Many of us deal with some form of altitude sickness. The good news is that with modern medicine and some
preparation, it needn’t keep you off the slopes.