Altitude sickness at Breck/Keystone?
October 26, 2007
Hi all - thanks to everyone who responded to my earlier post about suggestions for where to ski in the west with my family + another family with beginners. We thought we had narrowed it down to Breckenridge or Keystone (plane tix to Denver are purchased) but now we're reconsidering Steamboat, in part because it's a lower altitude and seems like perhaps less risk of altitude sickness. What I'm trying to determine is how big of a concern altitude sickness really is if we were to go to Breckenridge or Keystone? Based on the stats I've read, we have about a 20% - 30% chance of getting some symptoms, which suggests at least 2 in our party of 8. But I'm not really sure how serious a concern this would be. To be honest, my husband was getting excited about the idea of staying and Breck or Keystone, and getting a day at Vail too, and is less enthused about Steamboat. Should I convince him Steamboat would be worth our while? It sounds perfect for beginners, but he had great memories of skiing in Breck, Copper and Keystone 20 years ago and was starting to imagine re-living that. Also, all the advice about altitude sickness says to take it easy the first few days, which doesn't sound too realistic to me, given that we'll only have 4 full days of skiing (arriving Thursday night, leaving Tuesday).
Thanks in advance for your advice!
I would take it easy Thursday night and maybe even Friday morning. A couple of things I remember local friends telling us was to drink twice the amount of water you normally would and lay off excessive caffeine or alcohol. While it is not Everest, IIRC the peaks are @ 13,000 feet which is still considered high altitude.
In all my trips out West we have never had a serious problem and only have had a couple people affected. I think this was for two reasons on this particular trip 1 - they were not in fantastic physical shape to begin with and 2 - we went skiing the day we got out. I'm sure there are some folks on here that have lived or spent more time out there that could help out too.
Altitude sickness is quite mysterious. You never know who it will strike or how badly. For most reasonably healthy people at ski resort elevations (even 9000+ at Summit County) it should not be a deterrent to planning a ski trip. I have had a touch of it on two trips skiing in the West...minor to not-so-minor headaches and bellyaches type stuff, I was in my 30s and very fit for both of these occurrences. For the first time I tried a $2 prescription of Diamox (a well know drug for assisting in altitude adjustment) when I made a trip to Keystone for four days of skiing this past April. It's not for everyone and you should consult a doctor if interested. I'm in my 50s now and I was pleased with the results (no headaches) from my recent experience at Keystone and would use Diamox again. I also kept a bottle of water with me at all times refilling it often, mostly laid off alcohol, and enjoyed four pretty active ski days.
Good info here from a skiing MD on preparing to go on a high altitude ski vacation: http://forums.epicski.com/showthread.php?t=34470
Matthew Graham offers insight on adverse altitude issues in this recent trip report from skiing at Loveland (base elevation over 10K) and Copper Mtn; addressing some standard issues, beware of over exertion early in trip and not drinking enough water: http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=999&mode=search
Got a detailed report coming soon on my Keystone trip. Promise.
The above advice about H2O is definitely the most important. Hydrate a lot. And make sure that you have plenty of water on the slopes, as well. Re-fillable bottles are your best bet as bottled water is generally even more outrageous than normal in a ski town.
Altitude sickness is not fun, and I have seen it affect people I have been with on various trips over the years, so I would say your guess that someone in your party could have some symptoms is a pretty reasonable assumption.
With all that said, the "Summit" is a great place for a family ski vacation. From any home base you can really ski a day at Keystone, Breck, Copper, A-basin or Vail. If you have young, energetic people in your group, Keystone can be a good home base as there is night skiing. For most people, however, a day of skiing is more than enough and they are ready for hot tubs (an aside here, not to be a wet blanket or too long winded, but being in a hot tub dehydrates you, so take H2O to the hot tub too!) and relaxing by the time the sun goes down.
The beauty of Colorado is that you can hardly go wrong no matter what you decide, but I wouldn't shy away from Keystone et al b/c of altitude sickness.
You will find a much longer drive to Steamboat from DIA. I'd pick the summit and choose your destination based on your preferences for town size, condo cost, and matching terrain to your groups abilities. Somehow despite the terrible threat of altitude sickness, tens of thousands of people happily return there every year. And, yes, HYDRATE.
Thanks for all these tips guys. Our family is also going to Breck this year, with a day trip to Vail and one to Keystone for night skiing. My children are ages 8 & 9. Is there anything special to do for kids?
all good tips, especially hydrating. The only effect ive ever had was a few mornings with headaches, but a few Alleve's put the kibosh on that pretty fast. I recommend having some in the pocket just in case, that stuff works awesome!
ive also read somewhere that really loading up on carbs a few days before your trip can help. not to mention its always nice to have plenty of stored energy for long days on the mountain
I was at breck two years ago and one of the people in my party (we had 9) suffered mild altitude sickness, even enough that he was not able to ski for one of the days. But if you take the advise of others and drink lots of water and try to take it easy your first day you should be fine. I would not let it determine your decision on what resort you visit.
From the age of your kids, I'm guessing the adults are going to be in their early 40's or so. I really don't think altitude sickness will be much of a problem, and I wouldn't let it scare me off.
Will you feel it when you do things like climb stairs? Absolutely. Will you get dehydrated faster? Absolutely. Will you be a wreck the next day if you drink alcohol heavily? Probably. So just follow the tips listed above, and then don't really worry about it. If you're really worried it might be a problem, you could go with some Diamox. The only downside is it will make any carbonated beverage (include beer) taste flat/horrible.
An absolute ton of people go to Summit County every year, including beginners, and have a great time. There are a dozen other factors that will likely have more impact on your trip (snow conditions, crowding, where you stay), that I would concentrate on.
I love, love, love Vail and Summit County. Not to knock Steamboat, but there's a reason those resorts (Vail, Beaver Creek, A-Basin, Breck, Keystone, and Copper) are so popular. Be sure to hit Vail for at least one day, as the snow's usually a little better, and the back bowls and Blue Sky are to die for...
An extra pillow or two can sometimes help me sleep better.
On two occasions I've had the mildest of altitude problems. Both have been in Utah, not summit county, and I think it is because of the very dry dehydrating climate combined with altitude. Drinking lots of water is really key. I keep water on the nightstand in my room and have a few swallows every time I roll over & wake up. I don't drink hard liquor and not much wine on western trips but I do enjoy beer and moderate indulgence does nothing to me. Perhaps I have a fortunate heredity with respect to altitude,
took place 10 hrs. after getting on a plane at sea level and 3 months after triple bypass surgery.