Dealing with altitude in Colorado
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mdr227
one month ago
Member since 01/11/2016 🔗
193 posts

Had been to Vail and Keystone (on separate trips) about 15 years ago and remember the first trip having just a brief period of losing my breath carrying some luggage up stairs at Keystone (stayed at about 9200 feet), but at Vail a couple of years later (staying at a little over 8,000 feet) the first morning was hit pretty hard by it for a few hours and was then fine (had to go lie down and couldn't eat breakfast).   Have been to Big Sky a few times and we stay at around 7600 feet there with never any issues.   In all cases of prior travel we would go to the resort same day we landed. 

Just got back from my first trip to Breckenridge (snow was great after 15 inches over the weekend, more on Monday throughout the day and some Tuesday as well with sunny conditions mixed in) and stayed right at the based of peak 9 at around 9700 feet.   I got a prescription for Acetazolamide this time and started taking a day before leaving for Denver plus we stayed in Denver the first night (my wife was there for a conference) and I drove out to the mountains the next morning.   The only issue I had this time was a pretty bad headache the first couple of nights (after skiing until sometime in the middle of the night).   I drank much more liquid in advance this time plus while I was there (water, gatoraide, juice, etc.), at lots of carbs and bananas, etc..   Not sure if my headaches were related to the dry air more of the altitude.  

The reason for my post is to ask what others have experienced when traveling to the Epic (or other) resorts in Colorado with the altitude (either yourselves or people in your party).   I want to go back out there and take some of my family, but worry about their ability to acclimate to the altitude.   

oddballstocks
one month ago
Member since 02/11/2017 🔗
123 posts

We spent a week in the Rockies in the summer of 2021.  Stayed in Frisco (same elevation as Breck).  We hiked to the top of Breck on some of their trails.  No skiing, but similar physical activity.

My wife was really worried about altitude sickness.  We made sure to hydrate regularly throughout the day vs trying to drink a lot of water at once.  No one had a problem thankfully.

My brother had it fairly bad in Utah, and others I've known who had it bad all started out slightly dehydrated.  If you're flying in you're starting on a bad foot because planes dehydrate you.

When I'm really active in the summer I regularly take Liquid IV, Nuun tabs, or something similar where it's a LOT of electrolytes that are concentrated.

I guess my advice is: book an aisle seat in row 1 and pound those liquid IV's in-flight before you arrive.

OR... fly out to Salt Lake and stay in the valley at a lower altitude and drive up to ski each day.  This is what we do for our West trip each year.

bob
one month ago
Member since 04/15/2008 🔗
755 posts

If you have the time, staying in Denver  at 5280 for a day or 2 helps you get acclimated. If not ...

The acetazolamide does help. Start 2 days before getting to altitude and keep taking it for 3 days after getting there.

Stay hydrated and stay away from alcohol.

Getting back frequently helps. I used to spend from end of November to mid to late April in Breck. 12 days there (skiing 10 - I didn't   do weekend) then 9 days back home, then 12 days back at Breck. I found that if I was away for less than a month and came back that the altitude did not bother me.

I did do acetazolamide before the November trip as well as when I came back in the spring or fall.

marzNC - DCSki Supporter 
one month ago
Member since 12/10/2008 🔗
3,246 posts

One of the reasons I didn't have any interest in skiing Colorado until I was retired and was able to take ski trips that lasted longer than 6-7 days was the high altitude.  What I've learned in the last decade reading is that 9000 ft is a significant cut point for many people.  While there are people who have issues at 7000 ft or 8000 ft, it's rarer that the only solution is to go to a lower altitude ASAP.

Pushing the limit: Understanding the body’s performance at high elevation - September 2019, Summit Daily, Colorado

High Altitude Effects & Tips - November 2023, Visit Colorado Springs



marzNC - DCSki Supporter 
one month ago
Member since 12/10/2008 🔗
3,246 posts

The adjustment made by a human body for high altitude does last a few weeks at least.    Here's a study done that was trying to see how long the changes required to adapt to high altitude usually last. Managed to find one article about the basic findings. A group of volunteers spent two weeks at over 15,000 ft, then left the mountain for 1-2 weeks, and returned for another short period. A factor related to why the adaptation can last for a few months is that red blood cells survive for about 120 days.

Two weeks in the mountains can change your blood for months - October 2016, Science

Denis - DCSki Supporter 
one month ago (edited one month ago)
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,337 posts

marzNC wrote:

The adjustment made by a human body for high altitude does last a few weeks at least.    Here's a study done that was trying to see how long the changes required to adapt to high altitude usually last. Managed to find one article about the basic findings. A group of volunteers spent two weeks at over 15,000 ft, then left the mountain for 1-2 weeks, and returned for another short period. A factor related to why the adaptation can last for a few months is that red blood cells survive for about 120 days.

Two weeks in the mountains can change your blood for months - October 2016, Science

 Thanks for finding and posting that.  In my experience the body does ‘remember’ or develops the ability to adjust more quickly on repeated exposures.  I used to go on frequent business trips to Pasadena, CA. And always added a couple days to ski Mammoth,  base 8000, summit, 11000.  Never had any trouble.  Same for friends and colleagues I skied with on those trips.  Many mammoth regulars live at sea level in LA and go every weekend.  I’d drive there after ending  business on a Friday at say 4 pm, hit lift opening next am and we’d ski hard all day.  That is a sterner test than Denver (5000’) to summit country or Salt Lake (4500’) to the Wasatch.  

marzNC - DCSki Supporter 
one month ago
Member since 12/10/2008 🔗
3,246 posts

Denis wrote:

marzNC wrote:

The adjustment made by a human body for high altitude does last a few weeks at least.    Here's a study done that was trying to see how long the changes required to adapt to high altitude usually last. Managed to find one article about the basic findings. A group of volunteers spent two weeks at over 15,000 ft, then left the mountain for 1-2 weeks, and returned for another short period. A factor related to why the adaptation can last for a few months is that red blood cells survive for about 120 days.

Two weeks in the mountains can change your blood for months - October 2016, Science

 Thanks for finding and posting that.  In my experience the body does ‘remember’ or develops the ability to adjust more quickly on repeated exposures.  I used to go on frequent business trips to Pasadena, CA. And always added a couple days to ski Mammoth,  base 8000, summit, 11000.  Never had any trouble.  Same for friends and colleagues I skied with on those trips.  Many mammoth regulars live at sea level in LA and go every weekend.  I’d drive there after ending  business on a Friday at say 4 pm, hit lift opening next am and we’d ski hard all day.  That is a sterner test than Denver (5000’) to summit country or Salt Lake (4500’) to the Wasatch.  

 My personal experience was the season I did two Taos Ski Weeks several years ago.  Went home for a week in between.  The second trip the adjustment took much less time.

I always spend a few nights in town (7000 ft) before moving up to TSV (9000 ft).  I'm usually in pretty adjusted by the third day.  Might need an aspirin the first day if I haven't hydrated enough and am starting a slight headache.

Denis - DCSki Supporter 
one month ago (edited one month ago)
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,337 posts
This has a long history, was closed for a number of years, now running again.  Might be a great way to deal with the altitude problem.  Take a day trip to altitude, ski, return to Denver and sleep lower.  High altitude mountaineers say climb high, sleep low.  It’s part of their adaptation technique.  Climb up 2-3000 feet, set up the new camp, descend and sleep in the previous camp, then go up again when ready.  

Denver to winter park ski train
Mongo
one month ago
Member since 02/24/2015 🔗
98 posts

Just after Christmas we went to Snowbird/Alta. That was the first time I'd been out west in quite a while. We stayed in Cottonwood Heights, so lower but not much lower than the ski area, yet I was still affected by the altitude. I was really low on energy the first two days. Couldn't ski a run top to bottom nonstop. But then the morning of day three it was like flipping a light switch, boom I was zooming down the runs no problem. Wish I'd known about acetazolamide.

MarkJ
one month ago
Member since 02/4/2022 🔗
14 posts


 I feel your pain.  I love to ski, but have to deal with altitude issues.  I liken myself to Olaf the snowman in the movie Frozen.  He loves the beach but was born a snowman.  

Mongo wrote:

Just after Christmas we went to Snowbird/Alta. That was the first time I'd been out west in quite a while. We stayed in Cottonwood Heights, so lower but not much lower than the ski area, yet I was still affected by the altitude. I was really low on energy the first two days. Couldn't ski a run top to bottom nonstop. But then the morning of day three it was like flipping a light switch, boom I was zooming down the runs no problem. Wish I'd known about acetazolamide.

JimK - DCSki Columnist
one month ago (edited one month ago)
Member since 01/14/2004 🔗
2,963 posts

There was an interesting thread on the old EpicSki forums about where are the biggest/best places a person could ski that wanted to stay at lower elevations (under ~7.5k feet).  Many mountains in Eastern North America would be fine choices, but out west some that were mentioned included Whistler, Schweitzer, Whitefish, Crystal.  And there are quite a few additional nice areas in Western Canada with top elevations less than 7k feet.

I'm somewhat sensitive to elevation and struggled on a few ski vacations to CO, where I slept and skied above 9k feet. This occurred when I was much younger, in my 30s. I find UT a little easier to handle in my old age, sleeping at 4.5k feet and skiing at ~8-11k feet.

I got acetazolamide from my pulmonologist and used it on a number of those short term CO trips.  But now that I stay in UT for lengthy periods I don't use it any more, just go slow first week or so.  This winter my first two ski days in the Rockies were in mid-Jan at Monarch, CO, elevation ~10.8k to 12k feet.  Sucked wind big time!

marzNC - DCSki Supporter 
one month ago
Member since 12/10/2008 🔗
3,246 posts
Lately I've been thinking about checking out the combination of Tamarack and Brundage, which are on the Indy Pass.  The drive from Boise is about two hours.  I have a few friends who became more sensitive to high altitude (sleeping at over 5000 ft) as they got older.  The Tamarack base is around 5000 ft and they have built a "village" with ski in/out lodging.  Or can stay in McCall, about a 30 min drive away.
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