Most of us have been there – we work hard and crash into a ski vacation. We rush to the airport and catch a flight that is two hours late landing at our destination. We dive into the rental car; drive too far and once in the mountains we down a few celebratory drinks and flop into bed way past our normal bedtime. Hectic yes, but exciting!

Really exciting until… the next morning you realize you didn’t sleep well, have a nagging headache and can’t seem to catch your breath. Four Advil later you still can’t escape that dull feeling and those muscles you’ve been honing for weeks in preparation for this trip are aching. Welcome to high altitude!

High altitude sickness can ruin your vacation – pure and simple! The typical symptoms mimic a very mild flu, but can be debilitating – nausea; headaches; achiness; fatigue; sleep issues; and loss of appetite. The culprit of course is less oxygen at higher altitudes, and your body is thirsting for the amount it is used to. Obviously, none of this goes well with a ski vacation. There is some good news. For most, the symptoms slowly soften after a few days and three or four days into the vacation many have made peace with the altitude. But who has three or four days to spare in a week long vacation!

So what to do? There are some practical simple steps you can take. Don’t drink alcohol! Yeah, we know that isn’t popular, but would you rather enjoy that second whiskey or the untracked powder? Drink water – and we mean lots of water. Yep – get that pee to be perfectly clear and do that a day or two before your trip. Also, don’t cover too much altitude in one day. Flying into Colorado or Utah? Stay in Denver or Salt Lake City the first night. Many ski area shops also sell bottled oxygen. We have tried it and would put it in the “can’t hurt” category but have not felt long term benefits. There are also glucose lozenges marketed under the name of Gly-Coramin which help but are hard to find in this country.

Perhaps most importantly, there is medicine readily available in the United States that works and has very minimal side effects! Look up Acetazolamide or Diamox. And you are welcome – we have tried it in our family and highly (sorry, couldn’t resist) recommend it. It is a prescription medicine so tell your doctor we sent you. Unless your doctor is as crazy as all of us she may not know about it, but it is a completely approved drug for high altitude.  Side effects – tingling in fingers and toes and you may not feel the fizz in your coke. We have not experienced either.

And perhaps the most important preventative step you can take is when you are sipping your gin and tonic in August planning your trip. Most people are not bothered by altitude issues until they are above 8,000 to 9,000 feet. While you may have your sights on the well known Colorado areas, or Utah’s gems, Snowbird and Alta, these resorts are HIGH! Many of the Colorado resorts top out at above 11,000 feet and Snowbird’s and Alta’s summits are above 10,000 feet. Traveling to the west coast won’t help – California resorts are equally high.

But broaden your search and you will find numerous lower altitude options without sacrificing quality. Take Sun Valley, one of the primo ski resorts in the country featuring great terrain, stunning mountains and an authentic western town – base elevation is under 6,000 feet and the summit is a tad over 9,000 feet. And give a serious look at the Canadian resorts. Whistler/Blackcomb’s highest point is 8,000 feet and many of the interior Canadian Rocky resorts (think Revelstoke, Red, Fernie) summit at 6 or 7 thousand feet.

Be Well; Ski Well!

conSKIerge co-founder

Kevin Dennis is a life long ski bum with a 34 year legal career on the side. Now retired, he skis 80+ days a year. While he lives in Alta UT in the winters, he has traveled extensively through skiing and has skied almost every major resort in North America (and many you have never heard of). He continues to hit the road often throughout the western United States and Canada and trips over the last several years have included ventures in British Columbia, Montana and Colorado. Whether you want to know about the behemoths like Aspen or Squaw or are interested in the road less travelled (Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana or Whitewater in BC anyone?), Kevin has been there, has an opinion and you will most likely have to tell him to shut up after a half hour!