Preventing Altitude Sickness: One Homeowner’s Story of a Second Home in Vail

The dream has always been owning a second home in Vail, CO (altitude of 8,120 to 11,570 feet above sea level). The ability to host our out of town visitors was something we had looked forward to for years. Once we were finally able to make our dream of owning a mountain home a reality we found ourselves plagued with altitude sickness – fatigue, dizziness, and headaches. We were living in a beautiful home in a beautiful location and we were not able to enjoy it. A day or two into our trip is when the symptoms would hit and would sometimes last for our entire trip. We wanted nothing more than to be able to have the energy and feel well enough to spend our days on chair 10 skiing Blue Ox and Highline in knee-deep powder. Our reaction to the altitude was dashing our dream of vacations in Vail.

We spent countless vacations in our new home suffering from headaches, fatigue, nausea, and restlessness. We had to find a way of preventing altitude sickness so we could enjoy the time we had on vacation. We consulted with several specialists to try to find a solution to our mountain sickness. Upon doing this research it was very interesting to learn that no one is immune to altitude sickness. You could be a top Olympic athlete and you may still end up feeling the effects of the thin air. Preventing altitude sickness before it occurs is the best way to combat it.

Slowly acclimating to high altitude is one way to prevent altitude sickness. When traveling to over 8,000 feet above sea level it is best to take several days to climb to your final altitude. Doctors recommend spending two to three days of gaining altitude slowly to adjust to the changes in elevation. Specialists suggest gaining only 1,000 feet per day. Ascending slowly allows your body to adjust to the higher elevation allowing red blood cells to carry more oxygen to different parts of your body. When you are mountain climbing that may work yet we were always excited to get right up to Vail and get to our vacation home. Changing our flight plans to fly into Denver to spend a few extra days at a lower altitude was not something that we were willing to do. Once we landed in Colorado we want to be in Vail right away pulling on our ski boots and zipping up our parkas.

There is nothing better than a beautiful bluebird day on the slopes. Followed by a late lunch and a crisp glass of wine at Sweet Basil, a short walk in ski boots from the Vin. While on vacation we often enjoy a taste of fine food and wine. During several of our visits to Colorado, we started to watch our diet closely. Our doctor gave us dietary guidelines to follow to prevent altitude sickness. We started drinking more water than usual a few days before our departure to Vail. We tried our best to drink 3-4 liters of water a day during our time in Vail. Dehydration decreases the ability for your body to fully acclimatize to higher altitudes. We avoided caffeine and alcohol as suggested (it is also suggested to avoid tobacco products). We tried to eat as many carbohydrates as possible. Our new mountain diet consisted of plenty of healthy carbohydrate snacks including whole grains. Carbohydrates require less oxygen for metabolism and replace depleted muscle glycogen, and prevent muscle from being used as energy.
Foods high in potassium such as bananas, leafy greens, dried fruit, potatoes, and tomatoes were on the menu. These foods help your body to acclimate faster. Ideally, it is best to avoid foods high in salt. Complex carbohydrates are great for stabilizing your blood sugar and maintaining energy. This was an easy way to have more energy to enjoy the mountain lifestyle.
Changing our diet was a simple step we could take to reduce some of the headaches and dizziness.

Over the counter medications can also be used to reduce the discomfort of headaches and nausea. While medications can be a temporary aid, they do not help every symptom of altitude sickness. Descending rapidly to a lower elevation may also necessary in some cases of altitude sickness. In some cases, symptoms can get so severe a trip to the hospital may be necessary. This would be a terrible end to any vacation. Taking a few steps to prevent symptoms before they occur may be the best method of avoiding altitude sickness.

Another recommendation we received is the term “play high, sleep low”. The thought behind this method is that you can play and ski at a high altitude but travel lower to sleep. During the night while sleeping at a lower altitude, your body takes in the oxygen you needed to combat the thin air affects you “played” in all day. Unfortunately, this option was not an option for us as our home is above 8,000 feet. Then we learned about Altitude Control Technology and their equipment to oxygenated a bedroom. Altitude Control Technology has an impressive client list of several US and International Universities, Government & Military organizations, and hospitals. This system solved all our problems. Sleeping in an oxygenated room simulates “play high, sleep low” without having to sacrifice the comfort of leaving your own home. The system we were purchased from Altitude Control Technology is the only company that is approved by NFPA certified engineers. The air unit is controlled by a small iPad size controller on the bedroom wall and can also be controlled by a cell phone app. It pumps oxygen into the bedroom to simulate a lower altitude. Our bodies can now absorb more oxygen at night while sleeping in our own home. This provides us with a full and restful night’s sleep. We wake up with the energy we needed to enjoy skiing those big mogul runs that we love so much. Several of our guests have been able to visit us now that we have the option for them to avoid the exhausting symptoms of altitude sickness.

If you experience altitude-related symptoms I urge you to try all the methods about to see what works best for you. None of us are immune to the effects of high altitude. Finding a solution that fits your needs and lifestyle can be done with time. If you are heading to high altitude for the first time, make sure you prepare your body for the trip before leaving. Vail, Colorado is a beautiful place and you should be able to enjoy it feeling your best!