Acclimating to High Altitude and Sickness
What causes high altitude sickness?
The higher you climb above sea level, the less oxygen there is in the air. The oxygen level becomes very low at altitudes above 8,000 feet. This causes problems for people because their bodies aren't used to working on so little oxygen. If you stay at a high altitude for a long time, your body gets used to the low oxygen level, and you don't get sick from it. The altitude of Denver alone is a mile high. Just that is enough to make some folks ill.
How do I know if I'm getting high altitude sickness?
Some of the first signs of high-altitude illness are headache, light headedness, weakness, trouble sleeping and an upset stomach. Please don't ignore signs of high-altitude illness. People can die of this if they don't recognize the signs or if they don't believe their illness is caused by the high altitude. When you have signs of high-altitude illness, don't go higher until you feel better and your symptoms have gone away completely.
What should I do if I get high altitude sickness?
- Stay Hydrated. Make sure to drink more water than usual. High elevations can dehydrate you and cause severe headaches.
- Sleep at an altitude that is lower than the altitude you are at during the day. For example, if you ski at an elevation of 10,000 feet during the day, sleep the night before and the night after at an elevation of 8,500 feet.
- Get Acclimated. If possible, plan to spend a night or two at an intermediate elevation (such as Denver, Colorado Springs, or Grand Junction) before traveling to higher elevations in the mountains. If not, plan on taking it easy for your first day or two until you've gotten accustomed to the elevation. There are plenty of things to do in the Breckenridge area that are fun and relaxing.
- Medication. Medicines that may be used to prevent or treat the symptoms of severe high-altitude illness include acetazolamide (one brand name: Diamox) and nifedipine (one brand name: Procardia).
- Bottled Oxygen. You can buy or rent oxygen concentrators in the Breckenridge area and most medical stations will have oxygen available for ill skiers.