Lonely Planet Writer

Christmas holiday skiers warned of dangers of altitude sickness

Skiers who like to take a Christmas break on the piste have been warned of the dangers of altitude sickness.

Skiers and other visitors to mountain slopes have been warned of the danger of Acute Mountain Sickness which can lead to serious injury and even death
Skiers and other visitors to mountain slopes have been warned this Christmas holiday period of the danger of Acute Mountain Sickness which can lead to serious injury and even death Image by Ridge Tahoe Resort Hotel / CC BY 2.0

Acute mountain sickness (AMS)  is a condition that authorities are warning has been responsible for the deaths of 32 people in Colorado since the mid-nineties, according to the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

Ski resorts sell several products to help with some of the problems altitude sickness
Ski resorts sell several products to help with some altitude sickness problems such as headaches or dizziness or nausea Image by ludovic / CC BY-SA 2.0

During that time, out of state visitors were rushed to emergency rooms for altitude sickness over 1,000 times. Spokesman Mark Salley said that not everyone suffered from altitude problems but over one in five of those staying at 7,000-9,000 feet experienced AMS and for those a thousand feet higher, that percentage more than doubled. ACM occurs due to lack of oxygen in lower air pressures and normally starts to affect people who climb above 8,000 feet.

Many Rocky Mountain visitors seek oxygen therapies, pills, oils, and wristbands as a antidote to feeling lightheaded during their time in the rarefied atmosphere of the mountain slopes. The New York Times reports that skiers are also only too happy to spend money on treatments in their bid to avoid having their vacations ruined by nausea, dizziness and constant headaches.

Although most of the medical solutions cost very little, there are also some pricey remedies. One spa in Colorado offers an “altitude revival” massage for one and a half hours but it cost over $200. For that the customer gets puffs of “pure oxygen”, a glass of “oxygen-rich structured water” and a massage specific for altitude adjustment. Oxygen based goods are at the centre of many products marketed to visitors for high-altitude ailments. One ski rental home offers for $1,400 a night four oxygen-infused bedrooms which makes people feel like they are sleeping at a lower altitude.

Experts believe the best way to keep altitude sickness at bay is to ascend slowly and give alcohol a wide berth. Visitors are warned to check if symptoms are getting worse and if so, they should get off the mountain because by staying they could be risking serious injury or death.