Life in the Roaring Fork Valley is about as majestic as mountain living gets. Spring and summer are set to a backdrop of wildflowers, winding rivers, endless trails and long, sun-filled days. Fall offers world-class fishing and hiking along some of the most coveted ridges in the Rockies. And then, of course, there’s winter. From the snow-capped peaks of Aspen to the family-friendly slopes of Snowmass and Buttermilk, there is something for every winter sports enthusiast.
So, with all of the excitement and endless opportunities for adventure, why do you feel a little sluggish? Maybe short of breath? The possible answer: Altitude.
Aspen and Snowmass Village are approximately 8,000 feet in elevation. Take a trip to the top of the resort or climb to the nearest summit and you might ascend an additional 3,000 – 4,000 feet. This high-above-the-rest location is in part what makes it so special, putting visitors and locals that much closer to hilltops and mountain peaks. However, for many, altitude can bring complications and health issues that range from mildly annoying to outright concerning.
It’s important to pay close attention to the most common symptoms of altitude sickness, which include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Insomnia or disrupted sleep
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent headache
- Faster-than-normal heartbeat
- Nasal congestion
Symptoms are common in visitors, especially those traveling from much lower elevations who have yet to fully acclimate – but the symptoms can also occur in those who have lived in a high altitude area for an extended period of time. So, what can you do to live healthier while at altitude? Here are a few tips:
Ways to Boost Healthy Living at Higher Altitude
1. Don’t go crazy on your first day. If you’re visiting, maybe minimize your activity right after you arrive and allow your body to acclimate.
2. Drink water. Water. And more water. That’s right. Staying hydrated is key to keeping altitude sickness and symptoms at bay. Consider stocking your pack or purse with electrolytes to help the hydration process.
3. Avoid alcohol. While it might be tempting to overdo it on the adult beverages at that XGames after-party or Aspen Jazz Festival bash, try not to. Alcohol can aggravate altitude symptoms and contribute to dehydration (refer back to #2 on how important water is to staving off common altitude sickness symptoms).
4. Get plenty of sleep. Allowing your body proper rest and avoiding overexertion, overheating or lack of sleep can help avoid more severe and persistent altitude symptoms.
5. Listen to your body. If you notice an onset of symptoms, or if existing symptoms get worse as you increase your altitude, step back and slow it down. Often, simply getting to lower altitudes can help alleviate discomfort.
In some cases, more serious symptoms of altitude sickness, such as worsening shortness of breath, increased cough, severe trouble breathing and fluid in the lungs, can occur. Aspen Valley Hospital’s primary care providers are experts in altitude symptoms and sickness and can help assess and provide proper medical attention. If you need immediate medical care, visit Aspen Valley Hospital’s emergency department or an after-hours urgent care clinic.
Living healthier at altitude is attainable, even for those coming from sea level. Mostly, it means eating well, drinking plenty of water, and making sure you’re engaging in the appropriate amount of activity at an altitude that works for your body. Incremental progress is essential to proper acclimation, so don’t be too hard on yourself if reaching your fitness goals in Aspen takes a little longer, and seems a little more challenging, than it does elsewhere. The journey might be harder, but the rewards are sure to be worth it!