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November 18, 2009

Advice on Avoiding Altitude Sickness

Good information for flatlanders:

Thickening blood and dyhydration can cause headaches. Worse, these conditions, plus the increased calorie burn at altitude, can help bring about altitude sickness.

The only cure for altitude sickness is to go a lower elevation. But prevention could help stave off this condition. Some tips and tricks I’ve learned:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink plenty of water in the days leading up to your trip. Don’t wait till you get to the ski lift to pound down a bottle of water. Start pumping the water down a few days in advance and keep up your hydration pace throughout your stay. You should have water with you as you ski and ride, and drink often, even if you don’t feel particularly thirsty. If you wait until you’re thirsty, it’s pretty much too late.
  • Eat well. Get in a good balance of carbohydrates and proteins. Bring snacks with you on the mountain and stop to munch every now and then. Keeping your energy level up will help fight the effects of altitude.
  • Pace yourself. Even if you’re in good shape, you’re not in mountain shape. Your first day on the hill should be measured. As your body acclimates, then you can push yourself more.
  • Speaking of acclimatizing… You need to give your body time, particularly if you’re flying in to your destination. Spend at least a day getting used to the altitude by taking it easy, going for brisk walks and just allowing your body to adjust.
  • Learn to love the baby aspirin. This is a standard part of my first-aid kit on the mountain for this reason: Aspirin helps thin the blood, allowing for a more free flow of your bloodstream. Start popping low-dose baby aspirins a day or two before your trip and in the mornings during your stay.

Erich got really sick at the top of Alberta Peak at Wolf Creek last season and it necessitated a trip back down the mountain and the end of an otherwise epic day. He tried to go back out, but it had taken its toll. I got quite a dose of it too, but got back down sooner and it didn't get as bad as his did. He was almost unable to ride back to the lodge. Headaches. Nausea. It was hardcore.

Prevention is a good thing because once it starts the day is done.

Posted by Justin at November 18, 2009 10:33 PM