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Avoid High Altitude Sickness on Your Ski/Snowboard Vacation
You’ve planned the winter vacation you’ve always dreamed of. You’re headed west of the Rockies for a week of powder skiing. Bags are packed, gear is stowed and you can’t wait to hit the slopes.
You fly from your home at sea level to Salt Lake International Airport (5000 feet). It’s great that you can leave home, get here, and be in a few runs in the afternoon the day you arrive. What could be better? You get your rental car and drive through the canyon to the resort at 8,000 feet base level, get on the lift, and ride up to 10,000 feet. Go for a few runs, grab a few cocktails and have a nice dinner when you’re done skiing, you’re finally on vacation
The next morning you don’t feel very well. You are lethargic, nauseous with a headache and maybe a little short of breath. What a bad time to get the flu! It sounds a lot like the flu or a hangover, but what you’re probably suffering from is altitude sickness.
Altitude sickness can affect anyone, adults or children, when you travel from low altitude to high altitude. Not everyone suffers from it, and it’s relatively easy to avoid and take care of so it doesn’t ruin your vacation.
Here are some tips to help you feel your best:
- Hydrate. Drink twice as much water as you should, especially if you’re coming from sea level. Start hydrating before you arrive, flying will also dehydrate you. Carry water with you on the mountain, either a water bottle or a hydration system like a “Camelback”. Use bottled water if you must, but mountain tap water probably tastes better!
- Avoid dehydration. Yes, drink all those fluids as mentioned above but avoid dehydrating things like caffeine, salt and alcohol. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an après ski cocktail, especially on the first night uphill.
- Eat carbs. Carbohydrates take less oxygen to metabolize and digest. Don’t worry about the calories, you’ll burn those mountains and the carbs will give you the energy to do it.
- Take it slow. If possible, plan to spend your first night not at 10,000 feet, but at a lower altitude than the city. Taking a night to acclimate will help your body adjust. Have a nice dinner, go to a concert, explore the city. Plan ahead for things to do on that first night in town. Chances are that everyone is tired from traveling.
If spending a night at low altitude is not possible, at least take it easy on the first day on the mountain. Take time to get your snow feet back and explore the mountains in easy stagers. Save the black diamonds for later.
There are also some drugs and energy drinks on the market that prepare you for high altitude and eliminate any adjustment period. I’ve never heard that they work, but I haven’t talked to many people who have used them.
Other suggestions for preparing for altitude travel that I’ve seen are taking iron supplements or taking ginkgo. There is no science behind any of this, but there is some logic behind it. Iron helps your body produce more hemoglobin which is commonly seen in people at high altitudes. Gingko increases circulation which means more oxygen-carrying blood is circulating through your body.
Altitude sickness is usually harmless and short-lived. You will feel better once your body adjusts to the altitude. This takes time and you don’t want to spend your ski vacation feeling bad and not being able to ski. The best way to prevent and ward off those sick feelings is hydration. Keep your fluids up before traveling and especially when in the mountains. Maybe it’s cold but you’re engaged in a lot of activities that use up those fluids.
If hydration and rest do not take care of the condition, you may need to seek medical attention. Many ski resorts have clinics or ski patrols that have experience dealing with high altitude sickness. You might have the flu!
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