Getting High Too Quick Can Bring You Down

by Dan Giesin | March 20, 2023

On a clear day, high above the treeline, you float through pristine powder, leaving a trail of cold smoke in your wake. It’s just you and your ski buddy, enjoying lap after lap of exhilarating, top-quality powder turns.

It’s what all skiers and snowboarders dream of.

But there is also a very real nightmarish scenario to this euphoric reverie: If anything can harsh that Rocky Mountain high it’s altitude sickness.

This potentially debilitating condition, also know as acute mountain sickness, generally occurs when humans head for the hills at too great a speed. Going from sea level to above 8,000 feet too rapidly can cause such disagreeable — but usually short-lived — side effects as headaches (the most common symptom), nausea, vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, dizziness, shortness of breath, insomnia and, in some extreme but fairly rare situations, high altitude pulmonary edema or high altitude cerebral edema.

Struggling to acclimatize

Altitude sickness comes about as the body struggles to acclimate to the reduced oxygen levels at higher elevations; for instance, oxygen levels at 8,000 feet, generally the altitude where most symptoms begin to manifest themselves, are reduced by 25 percent compared to sea level.

Throw in such outside factors as dry air, cold weather, individual susceptibility, poor physical conditioning and/or failing to hydrate properly — and we don’t mean ingesting mass quantities of caffeine and/or alcohol here — and you will find that chances of succumbing to acute mountain sickness will be greatly enhanced. Not to mention putting a real buzzkill on your ski holiday.

Easy peasy resolution

Luckily, staving off a case of acute mountain sickness is a simple, two-step process. First off, don’t be too anxious to get to the goods. Give your body time to adjust to the altitude, particularly if you’ve just flown in from the flatlands, by spending your first day on the hill doing leisurely laps on relatively easy terrain. Then make sure you keep your hydration levels topped off. Water is the best preventative, but fruit and vegetable juices also work well, as long as you don’t mix them with booze. And keep your double-espresso consumption to a bare minimum. In other words, take it easy and keep the fluids coming. And in a day or so, you’ll find yourself doing what you’ve been dreaming about … without any nasty side effects.

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