Photo: Bob Winsett

The town of Breckenridge sits at 9,600 feet (2,926 m) above sea level, that’s 1.8 miles or 2.9 kilometers. What I’m getting at is that Breckenridge is really high …and that’s just the town. If you hit the slopes and head up Imperial Express SuperChair, North America’s highest chairlift, you’ll be 13,000 feet above sea level.

There’s a lot less oxygen up here. Being at such high elevation can affect everything from the temperature, to baking, to how you feel. Altitude can affect people differently.

According to research from Dr. Paul Anderson from the Mayo Clinic, approximately 20 percent of people who visit a high altitude location (4,291 – 11,483 feet) are affected by some form of altitude illness. Visitors to Breck can sometimes experience altitude sickness with symptoms ranging from mild shortness of breath to dehydration, headaches, bloody noses, nausea, difficulty sleeping and even more life-threatening symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, High Altitude Illnesses can range from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) to the more serious forms of High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) where fluid forms on the lungs (pulmonary edema) or the brain (cerebral edema).

However, with a little preparation before traveling, symptoms can be avoided. “Knowledge is the best prevention for altitude illness,” recommends Dr. Anderson. Here are some tips that can help make your stay in Breck more pleasant and healthy:

Drink water

It sounds pretty simple, but drinking plenty of fluids is key. According to the Mayo Clinic, dehydration reduces your body’s ability to adjust to high altitude. Start hydrating even a few days before your trip. It may be challenging to drink fluids while traveling, but it does pay off.

Lay off the booze and caffeine

Once you are here take it easy on dehydrating drinks. We know it can be difficult when you’re in holiday/vacation mode, but avoiding alcohol and caffeine decreases your risk of succumbing to the effects of altitude. If you do choose to drink, do as the commercials say, and drink responsibly.

Spend a night in the mile-high city

If possible, spend some extra time in Denver or at a lower elevation before ascending to Breck. A gradual ascent to higher elevations is recommended to allow your body to acclimatize. The Mayo Clinic states that this will allow your body to gradually adjust to higher altitudes.

Photo: Carol Saade

Get fit in advance and take it easy at first 

Even if you’re a marathon runner or world-class athlete back home, you’re not immune to altitude illness. Altitude illnesses can affect anyone regardless of what sort of physical condition they are in, but being in shape can help your resilience to the symptoms, say researchers from the Mayo Clinic.  

No matter your fitness level, experts recommend to take it easy for the first few days at altitude. I know. I know. It’s hard not to hit the slopes or mountain bike trails on your first day, but ease into it to allow your body to adjust. (and remember to drink lots of water)

Local help

When in Breck there are a couple of other ways to help you combat altitude sickness. To help get a better night’s rest, many hotels and property management companies offer humidifiers to moisten the air. In many of the stores around town you can purchase oxygen in a can. Also, there is an oxygen bar, The O2 Lounge, where you can buy a treatment of oxygen while you chill out and relax. They offer oxygen machine rentals and portable oxygen cans. Alpine Oxygen offers oxygen treatments delivered to your home or hotel room.

If you’re in need of medical attention, contact a local doctor, clinic or hospital immediately. There’s a mobile doctor who makes house calls. And, if you’re in a life threatening situation, call 911.

With some advance planning and preparation, you’ll be acclimatized and healthy for your Rocky Mountain trip. For more information about how to prevent altitude illnesses, check out these tips from the Mayo Clinic.

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