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New here, Altitude question

post #1 of 38
Thread Starter 
I'm new here and will probably be asking a few questions, but here's my first.

I am planning a ski trip for my husband and am leaning towards Breckenridge. We have never been skiing and live pretty much at a normal altitude. From what I have been reading, Breck is pretty high and have read about a lot of people geting sick from the altitude.

I haven't booked anything yet, but I am starting to worry if I should change our plans for another city. Can anyone tell me what to expect and if there are any precautions we can take to avoid getting sick?

BTW, we are young (in our late 20's, early 30's) and in pretty good shape.....if that makes a difference.

Thanks in advance
post #2 of 38
This thread may be helpful, though, as is often the case, you may need to wade through a bit of semi-extraneous noise:


Others may know more about Breckenridge specifically.
post #3 of 38
I would suggest Dear Valley in Park City, Utah. Lower altitude and an excellent ski school.
post #4 of 38
Originally Posted by AIMS312
...but I am starting to worry if I should change our plans for another city. Can anyone tell me what to expect and if there are any precautions we can take to avoid getting sick?
Just so you've got an immediate answer.

No you shouldn't change your plans (or worry but that's easier written than done). You'll tire easily and feel a slight shortness of breath. If you're lucky you'll feel light headed. Precautions are to drink lots of water, little if any alcohol on the first couple of days, take it easy, enjoy yourself. If this is your first ski trip you'll find skiing a lot more strenuous than you might expect. And you'll fall a lot. Wear a waterproof, breathable, outerlayer and don't overdress (or underdress but the more common mistake is to find folks with 4 layers on 'cause "it looks cold out"). Again, enjoy.
post #5 of 38
Here's my experience with Breck. I was 24 at the time and flew into Denver (from NJ...sea level!) then drove directly to our condo at the base of the mountain arriving around 6:00 PM. Base altitude was over 10K feet I am pretty sure. By 9:00 or so I was EXHAUSTED and had a pretty bad headache...felt just awful. Went right to bed but woke up the next morning feeling much better. Skied that day and the next six straight days with no problems other than the first night.

I have heard recommendations from people to stay in Denver the first night (5000+ altitude) to allow your body to gradually get used to the altitude. I would just drink plenty of water and realize there is a chance that you may be a little off your game the first night or so. You could also arrive early enough so you ensure you are fine by the next day.

The Colorado resorts are somewhat higher than the Utah or Tahoe resorts so altitude is more of an issue there.

Hope this helps.

post #6 of 38
I have posted on this before, but here are the general principles:
1. fitness does not effect the risk of acute mountain sickness (AMS), although better fitness at sea level certainly will help athletic performance at any altitude.
2. about 25% of people from sea level arriving direct to altitude (Breck is perhaps the highest of the CO resorts at about 9800ft) will have some symptoms of AMS, usually mild and self-limited- you may have some difficulty sleeping, have a headache, perhaps a bit of mild nausea initially, etc.
3. You will certainly be short of breath with exertion, and your baseline breathing rate will increase (that is one of the first of the body's adaptions to altitude).
4. serious AMS is not common, but can happen, so if you really feel sick, seek medical attention.

What you can do do minimize problems:
1. best is graded ascent (a day or night in Denver first before ascending to Breck) but this is not always practical for many people's plans. If you can, you could fly into Denver in the evening, sleep here (like at a hotel by DIA), and get the shuttle up to Breck in the morning.
2. drinking plenty is good advice, although the data on hydration staving off AMS are controversial. Certainly dehydration is common at altitude, and will make you feel rotten, even without AMS, so you should be careful to monitor your liquid intake and output. The air is very dry and you are hyperventilating, so you lose alot of fluid that way. Alcohol is a diuretic, so you can get more dehydrated if you drink. Caffeine is too, but you can get headaches from caffeine withdrawal, so if you are a heavy coffee drinker just be sure to compensate with non-caffeinated liquids.
3. There is good evidence that a high carbohydrate diet for at least 3 days before ascent reduces the incidence and severity of AMS.
4. go easy on the first day or two- don't over-exert, and by day 3 you will be much better.
5. I would not recommend chemoprophylaxis (drugs which can prevent AMS) for anyone who has not had previous problems.
6. Most hotels and condos have a humidifier available - use it when you are sleeping. You will feel better in the morning with it. Also, don't forget sunscreen and sunglasses that block 100% of UV.

You will have a great time up here! The weather is usually great, the town and mountains are beautiful, it is warmer than you would expect from the east, the snow is terrific. Look up some of the instructors on this site who teach at Breck (MarkXS, I think and a few others).
post #7 of 38
Breckenridge is a great town and a wonderful ski resort. That said, there are lots of fantastic places for your first trip out west that are a lot lower. Even if you don't get sick you WILL be tired. My advice is to go elsewhere for this first experience, Breckenridge will still be there next time.
post #8 of 38
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the tips and advice.

Just from reading the other forums here and doing a little research, I think we'll stick with Breck. DH has been wanting to visit Colorado since before we even met.
I found a great deal on a vacation home that has everything we want.

We are from Texas and live in a city that is only 425 ft. above sea level. I'll hand out some ginko and eat carbs a few days before. I may even have my doctor write a script for Diamox just in case.
We'll be celebrating his birthday, so I know we'll be drinking alcohol, but we'll take it easy on the first day.

One more question; would it make a difference if we stopped just outside of Denver for five or six hours (maybe to grab a bite and do a little shopping) to help us get used to the elevation? Or does it take a full night to get your body used to it?

Thanks for all the information.
post #9 of 38
Sounds like a good time.
post #10 of 38
Originally Posted by AIMS312
would it make a difference if we stopped just outside of Denver for five or six hours (maybe to grab a bite and do a little shopping) to help us get used to the elevation? Or does it take a full night to get your body used to it?

Thanks for all the information.
It takes weeks, or even months, to get used to the altitude. While a few hours may help I've got to believe that it's marginal at best. And remember you'll be doing stuff you're not used to - you're on vacation - you won't get used to the altitude, you'll just get more comfortable with it and adjust. Also remember that when you're flying the cabin isn't pressurized to sea level, instead I remember that it's pressurized to something equivalent to 8,000'. So it's likely you've encountered high-altitudes before without knowing it (and without exercising).
post #11 of 38
Be careful with Diamox. If you have any Sulfa allergies, you may react to Diamox and think the altitude is the culpret. It nearly killed a friend of mine on Kilimanjaro.

Millions of skiers fly right to Colorado and do fine. Have a good trip.
post #12 of 38
I'd certainly stay in Denver for a day or two... I only live 30' above sea level!
post #13 of 38
Bring chewing gum.
post #14 of 38
After being off of skis for more than a decade, I headed from Wisconsin to Breck for 5 days. Our group of 14 rented a large home across the valley that had an elevation of 11,000 or so (my guess). Needless to say a good portion of the group had headaches and nausea the first night. A few had problems throughout the trip. Personally I had a raging headache the first night but felt great the next morning. Milder headache the next few evenings.

I would add that Steamboat has a lower base elevation of 6900 feet and I recall hearing somewhere - someone should be able to verify this - that altitude sickness kicks in a little north of 7000 feet. Or head to Whistler where you get top elevation of 7000 feet in addition to a ton of verticle.

In any case, have a great time skiing.

post #15 of 38
Thread Starter 
I've flown quite a bit and my only problem has been my ears popping......yeah chewing gum helped.

Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of staying in Denver for a few days. We'll only be in Colorado for 4. I think we'll be fine, though.
post #16 of 38
My wife and I went to Breckenridge along with another sea level couple. It was the first time at high altitude for everyone except myself.

No one had any problems. Great town for shopping, going out etc... We went snowmobiling one day and had a blast doing that too so if you get tired of skiing or falling there are other things to do.
post #17 of 38
Hi aims, & welcome to EPIC.

I took my family to Winter Park our first time, & breck the next season. I also didn't listen to advice. Drinking lots of water, as stated, is a must.

Buy Hydration packs (Camelbaks) & drink while on the lifts.
I use both nose strips & Afron at night to help me breath.
I tried Diamox, but didn't like the side affects.

Hope you guys enjoy your trip.

post #18 of 38
I go from Boston (sea level) to PC several times a year. You will feel crappy for the first day (headache, not hungry), then you will be fine.
post #19 of 38
Hi AIMS312,

Second what Truckee said, and especially what dp said (he's an MD who has deep knowledge of this stuff - he did a presentation for one of our EpicSki Academies on this a couple years ago.)

That said, don't let the altitude scare you away from a great vacation at Breck and overall in Summit County. Follow the common sense advice about staying hydrated, not drinking alchohol the first couple of days, and taking it easy. If your schedule does allow you to arrive in Denver in the evening, you could take the advice about staying at one of the airport hotels. Maybe even make a day of it down in Denver, which is a fun city.

I had lots of guests from Texas or other low altitudes, who were first-timers in my classes last season. Pretty much everybody did ok, but I do make a point to find out where folks are from, and if they're just in from low altitudes, I remind them to pay attention to how they're feeling, drink a lot of water or other non-caffeinated liquids, and enjoy themselves.

Another option if you head straight up to Breck is to take a day off before starting to ski. Breckenridge is a great mountain town in itself - lots of interesting shops, restaurants, music, theatre, historical sights.

But most likely you'll be fine - I worked with lots of guests who arrived on Saturday and took their first lessons on Sunday.

Enjoy the visit! Stop by and say hi! We have quite a few Bears who teach at Breck here, and lots more folks who live around here and know the area.
post #20 of 38
I ski in Telluride and our base camp is @ 9700 ft so my adivice to our guests is drink lots of water (which will cause a couple of late night WC visits), take a couple of aspirin before bed, keep a couple more aspirin on the nightstand when you wake up in the mddle of the night with a headache, and buy Gas-X. The symptoms usually disappear after 1 or 2 days, but keep drinking water.
post #21 of 38
I am from Pa and live at an elevation of 1140ft...I will be arriving in Denver in the late afternoon then spending the night in Boulder before heading to Breck for 3 days of skiing and two nights stay on the mountain (1 day skiing at Vail)...I am going to drink lots of water while skiing, take some IB Profun (sp?) then the first night on the mountain will be drinking very heavily.....I will be fine....can't wait
post #22 of 38
The dry air can cause almost as many problems as the altitude. makes for a hard time sleeping, so humidifier use is a good suggestion. Drinking water to stave off headaches is critical. you won't be thirsty but drink anyhow. take your favorite pain reliever and take one the first night just so you get sleep. stopped up nose and some headache and sleeplessness are common, but the more serious stuff is really quite rare. Lots and LOTS and LOTS of Texans come up here all the time without any problems. Don't worry. And don't get medicine. If by some very rare chance you are seriously affected, there are clinics in the area that have expertise, or you can just head down the mountain for a while. It's really not that big a deal. not Everest!
post #23 of 38
I live in SC and have utilized several approaches to prevent AMS. My first trip to Breck/Keystone, I vacuously and regrettably did nothing to combat immediate ascent. I was rewarded with a searing first day headache and reportedly developed a really nasty attitude (per husband); not exactly the picture of fabulous vacation fun.

All following trips I have tried each of the following:
1. High carb diet day of travel (70% of calories coming from carbs): seemed to work and certainly is a lot of fun to seek out carbs. Atkins friends were horrified. Bonus gratification.

2. Ginkgo Biloba: I do not normally go herbal. This is contrary to my very core; however, it has also worked well. You will read evidence pro and con. However, the bulk of the con is yielded from Himalayan climbing altitude studies.
- It has yet to be determined exactly how Ginkgo works at altitude, but it may act as an antioxidant, reducing stress on tissues that have been injured by low oxygen levels.
- These studies used a standardized Ginkgo biloba extract (24% flavonoid glycosides, 6% terpenoids). The dose used was 80 - 120 mg twice a day, starting 5 days before a rapid ascent or at the beginning of a gradual ascent. ConsumerLab.com is an independent lab that tests herbal products to ensure that they contain what the label promises; they have a page evaluating Ginkgo products available in the USA.
- I do 120 mg, twice a day, starting 5 days out before day of flight.

3. Aspirin: cheap and effective. Amusing side note...when I shared this approach with my mother who is an RN she pointed out that this regime may thwart AMS but will make me a major bleeder if I have an impressive wipeout. I had a laugh over this one several times on the lift.
- Starting morning of my flight, I take 325 mg aspirin every four hours for a total of three doses.

I use all three concurrently and enjoy totally fabulous, AMS-free trips.

DEFINITELY TAKE THIS TRIP!!!!! The skiing is sublime, the views incredible and the town charming. My initial trip to Summit County forever changed how I vacation. Summer is no longer a vacation season; rather it is when I scour the internet looking at ski condos and trolling ski magazines for must have gear. If anyone suggests a vacation destination, I immediately inquire, "how is the skiing?". Needless to say, the Caribbean is a tough sell on that premise.

You are so ahead of the game by developing an anti-AMS strategy. People will share horror stories but the underlying theme is that they did not plan. Have an awesome trip and wave if you see a Carolina SnoCat!
post #24 of 38

Not to Suggest Another Option...

If you don't have any particular reason to want to go to Breckenridge, but want to go to Summit County, AND are on a budget, Copper often works out much better. You can buy a 4-day pass for $100 on ebay, and get a condo in Frisco. You used to be able to get good lift deals at Breck, but I don't think those are available any more. And Copper is, in my view, a better resort.

One other suggestion. If this is your first trip, two things matter more than anything. First, quality of snow. Nothing sucks more than skiing on lousy snow your first time out. Second, crowds. No fun spending a lot of time being worried about having people run into you. Third, quality of the ski school. Unless you'll be shelling out for private lessons, schools vary a lot in the size of group lessons.

Given all those features, I'd actually lean a bit toward avoiding Summit County, and going for somewhere more remote. If you can't go to Big Sky, Steamboat, Big Mountain, etc., then I would at least consider Alta, which has great snow and a really excellent ski school, and where crowds are usually not bad except around major holidays.

THAT SAID....Breck and Copper are both fantastic places, where you'll have a great time. Definitely try to get in early the day before you want to ski, and take it easy, if you can.
post #25 of 38
Hi -- we were in your identical situation last year (2 couples, late 20s, new skiers, wary of altitude, in good shape, etc.) and we went to Breck. We had the most fantastic time -- terrific blue runs, wonderful snow, gorgeous scenery, and the town is fun too. i was the most bothered by the altitude of the group -- probably because I have asthma. basically, i dealt with it by taking a lot of asthma medicine, advil and drinking a ton of water. also, we all stayed clear of alcohol for the first few days -- and the most we ever had after that was 2 beers. also, we tried vail one day and found it to be a much harder mountain, but then we went to Beaver Creek and could totally handle that. and, we could tell that we were at a lower altitude when we got to those bases.
post #26 of 38
Drinking a lot of water has been mentioned many times and is excellent advice. Dehydration is far more common than true AMS.

I suggest you hydrate before you get here. Once you're here, it's almost impossible to drink enough water if you're skiing, drinking coffee in the morning, etc. Your body will not be used to our dry cold climate. Start drinking as much liquid as you can a couple days before your trip. And if you start getting even the slightest headache in your forehead or behind your eyes you are probably getting dehydrated as your sinuses will dry out first. You'll need to step up your hydration and it will take some hours for the add'l liquid to take effect.

post #27 of 38
A benefit??? to the high altitude is that you don't need to drink as much to get snockered as you would at sea level.
post #28 of 38
I try to avoid Summit County just because of the altitude, although I like Copper and A-Basin. There isn't anything in Summit County that you can't find somewhere else where you can sleep at a comfortable altitude. For family trips we go to Steamboat, which I like better than Breckenridge in every way. I also find that Aspen is much more comfortable for me than Summit County.

post #29 of 38
AIMS do a search for the "Altitude Sickness & Viarga" thread.

There is a ton of information on that thread about altitude sickness.....(and some about Viagra too....for the total vacation experience ?)
post #30 of 38
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Uncle Louie
AIMS do a search for the "Altitude Sickness & Viarga" thread.

There is a ton of information on that thread about altitude sickness.....(and some about Viagra too....for the total vacation experience ?)

That's too funny and my husband would get a good laugh out of that. Do you realize that we would NEVER set foot on the slopes if that was brought along?

Thank you all for being so helpful and a plethora of information. The other couple that was supposed to go with us is about to back out, so I am scrambling to find new accommodations. Anyone know of a nice place close to Main St., the slopes, maybe a rental, with a full or 1/2 kitchen for a reasonable rate?

Thanks again guys,
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