Avoiding High Altitude Sickness in Winter Park, Colorado
Winter Park is one of the highest towns in Colorado, at 9,100 feet in town, 10,700 at the top of Winter Park ski area and a literally breathtaking 11,200 feet at the top of Mary Jane. Beware of high altitude sickness.
High altitude is defined as:
» High Altitude: 5000 – 11,500 ft (500 – 3500 m)
» Very High Altitude: 11,500 – 18,000 ft (3500 – 5500 m)
» Extreme Altitude: above 18,000 ft (above 5500 m)
The Classic Scenario
You fly from New York City to Denver at 5,000 feet (1,525 meters). That afternoon you rent a car and drive up to Winter Park at 9,120 feet (2,780 meters). You go out to dinner have 3 or 4 drinks, go to bed, wake up early and hop on the chairlift and go up to the top of the Panoramic Express Chair lift at 12,060 feet (3,676 meters) ski all day, and have a few beers after your done skiing. You begin to have a severe headache and feel nauseous and weak. If your condition worsens, you may begin to have difficulty skiing or hiking. Scenarios like this are not uncommon, so it’s essential that you understand the physiological effects of high altitude.
What You Can Do to Prevent It
1) Take Your Time
Consider spending a day in Denver or another town in the Front Range before heading up to Winter Park. Just one day at 5,000 feet can help tremendously in adjusting a bit before you go up to 10,000 feet in Winter Park. If you don’t have time to do that, you could spend a day doing something relatively easy on the first day in Winter Park, or at the very least you can avoid alcohol and follow the rest of the tips below so you don’t experience Acute Altitude Sickness.
2) Water is Your Friend
Be sure to drink a lot of water when you are at our high altitude. If you don’t drink enough water, you may bring on a headache which is associated with altitude sickness. By drinking lots of water, even though you may not be thirsty, you will push that headache away. Make sure that you do not drink alcohol instead of water, as alcohol can also bring on altitude sickness. Remember, water is your friend.
3) Eat Right
It is important to eat to avoid altitude sickness and that means consuming complex carbs. Complex carbs actually require less oxygen to metabolize and help you burn off a better ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide, allowing you to use oxygen more efficiently. Plus carbohydrates will help maintain your energy level and the protein will help rebuild muscle. You’ll appreciate that plate of pasta a little bit more the next day on the mountain.
4) Dry Climate = Dry Skin
When you come to Colorado, you’ll notice that your skin may seem drier than at home. The high altitude sun and low humidity are to blame. Be sure to bring lotion and lip balm for a more comfortable and itch free vacation.
5) Block the Sun
Along with the high altitude comes intense sun beams and those damaging UV rays. Be sure to use sunscreen lavishly and we recommend 30 SPF. Re-apply often.
6) Break Out Those Shades
Shades or sunglasses are not just for looking cool in the mountains. Sunglasses actually offer very important protection for your eyes from the damaging UV radiation. The UV radiation in the mountains is 36% higher than found at sea level. Wear your shades to protect your eyes from the glaring sun as it reflects off the snow. And don’t forget, goggles can offer the same type of protection even though you think they might not look as cool.
7) Dress Smart
Bring layers of clothing as the temperatures will vary greatly from morning to evening and from day to day in Winter Park. It’s not unusual to have a cool morning of 35 degrees and later in the day have it warm up to 80 degrees. A lightweight coat, sweater, and t-shirts are all a must. Long pants and shorts will serve you well to have some of each. We all enjoy that tremendous view from a high summits and skiing down from them, but there are risks in going to high altitude, and it’s important to understand these risks.
Now you are ready; go enjoy the skiing!