High Altitude Skiing

With Christmas week here, my wife is suddenly seeing a drastic increase in the number of skiers who aren't from high altitude. The base of the ski runs is nearly twice the altitude of Denver (and Fort Collins), but that's not enough of a difference for people to get altitude sick, but for people coming from sea level, 10,000 feet--and 12,000 at the top of the ski lifts--is a pretty extreme change, and their bodies aren't ready for it. Even for me after 3 weeks+ here, my resting heart-rate is still something like 85, and the percentage of oxygen in my blood is 90 percent of normal. So coming from most anywhere outside the Rockies and nearby High Plains...watch out. Use a bit of caution.

Another part of it is that the altitude makes alcohol more potent--they say figure one drink here is like three at sea level. And even without alcohol dehydration is a serious risk up here. So when a bunch of out-of-state college kids show up for a week of skiing and partying...well, you can imagine. Hungover, extremely dehydrated, so sleep-deprived they can hardly handle the free busing, much less the skiing. So if you do get drunk and pass out and fall off a ski lift as the clinic is just about to close on Christmas day, therefore making all the people working be an extra hour late to see their families...well, don't expect sympathy when you get the bill for the head CT scan, the ambulance ride to the hospital, the IV and everything else.

Oh, and if you're a 13-ish year-old boy from Mexico City up here to learn to snowboard...beware. My wife has seen three patients who fit that description with nearly identical injuries just in her short time here. There must be some kind of jinx.

It's cold out today--26 below in some parts of the state, and that's without factoring in wind chill. Not quite as cold here, but I don't think I'll be spending much time outside today.


Lauren Michelle said…
Yikes. Maybe my plan to retire as a mountain hermit is not such a good plan after all. Florida is so low that I'd probably disintegrate.

I just hope your wife doesn't end up with any tragedies. Good luck to her.
Daniel Ausema said…
Well, you just gotta take it easy--don't come up straight to this altitude and expect to exert yourself like you wouldn't back in Florida. Drink lots of water. And ideally take a few days at Denver's altitude or so to help get used to it. They say it takes a full year before you're 100 percent adjusted, but if you're careful about it, within a few days you should be able to do most things just fine.