I have planned for the winter vacation you've always dreamed of. You head west to the Rocky Mountains for a week of snowboarding. The bags are packed, the gear is stowed and you can't wait to reach the slopes.
You fly to Salt Lake International Airport (5000 meters) from your home at sea level. Great, you can leave home, get here, and have a few afternoon tours after your arrival. What could be better? You can get your rental car and drive the valley to the resort with a basic level of 8,000 feet, jump on the elevator and ride up to 10,000 feet. Get a few runs, get a few cocktails and a nice dinner when you're done skiing, after all you've been on vacation
The next morning you don't feel well. I was slow and nauseous from a headache and maybe a little less than breath. What a bad time to get the flu! It is very similar to the flu or obnoxious, but what you may have is a high illness.
High altitude sickness can affect any person, adult or child, when traveling from low to high altitude. Not everyone suffers from this and it is relatively easy to avoid and care for them so that they do not spoil your vacation.
Here are some tips to follow to help you feel your best:
- hydrate. Drink twice the amount of water you need, especially if you are coming from sea level. Start hydration before you arrive, as the flight will dry you as well. Carry water with you on the mountain, either a water bottle or a humidification system like "Beauty Back". Use bottled water if you need to, but the water from the tap on the mountain may taste better!
- Avoid dehydration. Yes, take all of these fluids as mentioned above but avoid dryers like caffeine, salt and alcohol. This does not mean that you cannot have apres ski cocktail, you only have to move easily especially on the first night at altitude.
- Eat carbohydrates. Carbohydrates actually take less oxygen for metabolism and digestion. Don't worry about calories, you'll burn them on the mountain and carbohydrates will help give you the energy needed to do so.
- slow down. If you ever plan to spend your first night at a low altitude in the city and not at 10,000 feet. Spending a night adapting will go a long way in helping your body adapt. Enjoy a nice dinner, take part in a concert, and explore the city. Make early plans for things to do that first night in the city. Odds everyone will be tired of traveling anyway.
If spending a night at low altitude is not possible, take advantage of it at least on the first day on the mountain. Take the time to recover the snow legs and easily explore the mountain. Save the black diamonds later.
There are also some medicines and energy drinks on the market that claim to prepare you for high altitude and get rid of any tuning period. I've never heard it works, but I haven't talked to a lot of people who have used it either.
Other suggestions to help prepare for the hike you’ve seen are taking iron supplements or eating ginkgo. None of these sciences are behind them, but there is some logic. Iron helps your body produce more hemoglobin, which generally appears in people at higher altitudes. Gingko promotes blood circulation which means that more blood carries more oxygen circulating through the body.
Altitude sickness is generally harmless and short-lived. Once your body adjusts to height, you will feel better. This takes time and you don't want to spend your skiing holiday feeling terrified and unable to ski. The best way to prevent and respond to this sick feeling is water. Maintain your fluids before your trip, especially while you are on the mountain. It might be cold but your participation in a lot of activities that consume these liquids.
If the water and rest don't care about the situation, you'll need to get some medical care. Many ski resorts have handy clinics or ski patrol with experience dealing with high altitude sickness. Maybe you got the flu!