The whole of the Roaring Fork Valley lies in what is considered a high-altitude to a very high-altitude zone.
The Roaring Fork Valley starts at 5,761 feet in Glenwood Springs and climbs to 7,908 feet in the city of Aspen, with the summits of Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass Mountain and Independence Pass averaging just over 12,000 feet. Once you’ve lived here for a while you will acclimate. After this transition, as you discover more places to explore, your excursions may take you to higher altitudes where you may experience some of the symptoms of altitude sickness, particularly if you are not native to high-altitude regions. For locals, a few weeks at lower elevations may require a bit of time to readjust.
The most common symptoms of altitude sickness include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Intestinal gas
- Fast heartbeat
- Nasal congestion
Keep in mind that several of the symptoms listed may also be caused by heart disease or underlying infection. If you are unsure what may be causing your symptoms, seek the advice of a physician. More serious symptoms of altitude sickness – such as worsening shortness of breath, increased cough and fluid in the lungs – can also occur and require medical attention.
Tip 1: Hydrate Like a Local
You will notice most locals are sipping on water throughout the day. They know that if they wait to get thirsty their performance suffers, and it is much harder to get caught up on their hydration when they fall behind. Buy a refillable water bottle and take sips every 15-20 minutes. Consider adding some electrolytes to the water for bigger workouts, such as a day of skiing or hiking. You will be breathing harder to take in more oxygen. Look for low-sugar or sugar-free sports drink options as too much sugar can aggravate your symptoms.
Tip 2: You’re in the Mountains So Pack for the Beach
With around 250 days of sunshine and less UV ray-filtering ozone, it is easy to get sunburned. Wear and apply sunscreen often. Don’t wait to get outside for that first application and be sure that all the little places like your earlobes and under your nose are covered when you hit the slopes. There’s nothing more annoying than a sunburned septum. The same goes for your eyes; wear appropriate UV filtering sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes from the intensity of the sun. See Chapter 4 to learn more about the effects of the sun at altitude and how to sunblock like a pro.
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Tip 3: Rest and Relaxation
So, you’ve just arrived, or returned from vacation at a lower elevation and the mountains are calling. By all means, heed their call, but take it easy the first couple of days and build up gradually. Get plenty of sleep. Overexertion and lack of sleep can result in more severe and persistent altitude symptoms.
Tip 4: Dial Back Your Alcohol Consumption
At higher altitudes, you will find less alcohol does the trick. Either eliminate alcohol for the first couple of days, or if you do drink, pace yourself to see how alcohol affects you. Always match your alcohol intake with water.
Tip 5: Watch What You Eat
Avoid heavy meals and red meat for your first couple of days. Eat smaller but more frequent meals. Your body will be working harder with less oxygen. Make sure you are getting your calories in and look for nutrient-dense options like dried fruit and nuts for snacking. Again, avoid or limit alcohol and sugar until you’ve had a chance to acclimate.
Tip 6: Don’t Forget About Your Pets
We are a dog-friendly community, just remember that your pets need a chance to acclimate, too. Let them rest and always make sure they have access to fresh water and treats to keep them hydrated and fueled up. If you are out and about and have forgotten to pack water for your pup, many merchants have water bowls outside their doors, and restaurants are always happy to oblige.
Above all else: Listen to your body. The symptoms listed are a warning to decrease your activity and protect yourself. If your symptoms persist or worry you, call 911 or visit Aspen Valley Hospital in Aspen, the Snowmass Clinic in Snowmass Base Village, or After-Hours Medical Care in Basalt. If you are on the mountain, call the ski patrol for assistance.
When not tending to patients in the emergency department, you’ll find Catherine in her garden, playing her harp or exploring the wilderness with her family and faithful dog Champ.