Tips To Prepare For High-Altitude Skiing In The Rocky Mountain Peaks

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By Karen Rubin,

The Colorado Rockies beckon those from lower altitudes to experience the adrenalin rush that comes with ascending to heights, not to mention the view and the prospect of laying tracks in fresh powder.

Our visits tend to be short, though, and we may rush out and not prepare our bodies for the extreme altitude – the result can be altitude sickness, which feels like a nauseous headache.

I know, because it happened to me my first day on the slopes at Keystone, and Eric’s first day at Breckenridge (of course, he probably brought on the problem by taking that first day hiking 30 minutes to the summit at nearly 13,000 feet).

Here are some tips gathered from our trips to Vail Resorts in BreckenridgeKeystoneBeaver Creek and Heavenly (there is a sixth resort this year, with the addition of Northstar-at-Tahoe, in California), as to how to prepare for a ski trip so that you get the most out of your adventure:

Preparing for High Altitude:

Proper Clothing

Dress for cooler temperatures but be prepared for sudden weather changes. It’s colder at higher altitudes and layers of clothing are a good idea. It may feel colder or warmer depending on whether it’s windy or cloudy on one hand, or sunny with still air on the other. It’s best to dress in layers and wear breathable clothing, such as smart wool that keeps moisture away from the skin.


Because of the thinner atmosphere and reflection from snow or water, you can sunburn much more easily than most people think. Ultraviolet light is more intense at higher altitudes. Be sure to protect your face and lips with appropriate sunscreen (at least 15 SPF), and protect your eyes with sunglasses or goggles.

Altitude Sickness

Perhaps as many as half the visitors from lower elevations experience some form of altitude illness. The vast majority of cases are self-limited and spontaneously resolve as the body acclimatizes. Symptoms include fatigue, decreased appetite, shortness of breath with minimal exertion, nausea, headache and sleep disturbances. These symptoms are often worse the second day at altitude (but resolve in four to five days). Rest is the key to treating mild forms of altitude sickness.

Avoiding Altitude Sickness:

  • Stay Properly Hydrated: Acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss, so you need to drink lots of fluids to remain properly hydrated (at least 3-4 quarts per day).
  • Avoid tobacco and alcohol and other depressant drugs during acclimation, which can also lead to dehydration.
  • Light Activity during the day is better than sleeping because respiration decreases during sleep, exacerbating Altitude Sickness symptoms.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise until you acclimate: So, it is best to time your arrival in the afternoon before you ski, spend time getting equipment, doing leisure activities (how about a massage at the spa? or a swim in the pool? or a walking tour of the town), rather than activities that drain you of energy.  Limiting exertion is better than using innumerable medications. Activities like running, hiking, lifting, straining etc can worsen the symptoms of altitude sickness.  Gradually increase your activity, to give yourself time to adjust.

Symptoms of altitude sickness can include headache, nausea, vomiting, light-headedness, persistent rapid pulse, general malaise, pins and needles, fatigue, insomnia, and/or diarrhea.

Severe cases may be complicated by breathlessness and chest tightness, which are signs of pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), or by confusion, lethargy, and unsteady gait, which indicate cerebral edema (brain swelling).

The symptoms of altitude sickness develop gradually so that, with proper management, serious complications can usually be prevented, says

If you get Altitude Sickness, Remedies include:

  • Drink Water: As your breathing is fast and deep, you tend to dehydrate more. So, drink water in considerable amount to keep yourself hydrated. Be at vigilance and check whether the urine is clear and in proper quantity. Alcohol can add to the dehydration problem and so, it is better to avoid it thoroughly, especially when you are climbing at higher elevations.
  • Acetaminophen: Rather than using drugs like aspirin, which have side effects, it’s advisable to use acetaminophen, a safer drug conferring instant relief from pain at higher elevations.
  • Inhaling pure oxygen is a quick fix. The mountain shops generally sell small portable canisters. Products include Altigen™, Oxia and Alpine Oxygen.

Seema Adnani at also suggests some home remedies including:

  • Herbal Potion: The potions are made from the common ingredients which are easily found at home. Ingredients include basic and normal things like lemonwaterginger garlichoney, etc. Drinking the potion helps in building body stamina, fight cold, cough, fever, headaches, gives energy to combat in high altitude areas etc.
  • Lemon Soda: It can be in taken to prevent vomiting, the colloquial tendency. But home remedies are more useful and easy to get. You can take a glass of fresh sweet lemon soda, digestive capsules made of herbs and natural ingredients like green mango, amlagingermethi, etc.
  • Eat Digestible Food: Avoid eating heavy, oily, junk foods while ascending upwards. You can also eat in small portion. Eat stuff which is easily digestible.
  • Ginger: Christopher Hobbs, the renowned herbalist believes ginger to be very beneficial for treating altitude sickness, as it plays a pivotal role in treating mild levels of altitude sickness. It is advisable to mix 20 drops of ginger liquid with half cup of water in case you suffer from altitude sickness.

I was able to get relief after taking Ibuprofin and a generic Pepto-Bismol, but if needed  immediate relief, I could have taken oxygen like Altigen™ or Oxia. By the next day, I was back to myself.

Frostbite & Hypothermia

Frostbite results from cooling of body tissues and subsequent destruction of these tissues. This occurs when skin is exposed to cold and windy conditions. Fingers, ears and noses are especially susceptible. The best cure is prevention. Keep the skin covered and warm up frequently. If blisters, occur or if fingers or toes are involved, seek medical attention immediately. Over exposure to cold, wetness or wind can cause a very low internal body temperature known as hypothermia. Warning signs include shivering, fatigue, slowed pulse and bluish lip color. Hypothermia is life threatening. Victims of hypothermia should get to warmth and shelter, remove wet clothes, warm up in blankets, and drink warm, non-alcoholic beverages. Emergency medical attention should be sought immediately.


At 9600 feet, the sun is 40% stronger than at sea level. Apply sunscreen several times a day and always wear eye protection. Sunglasses or goggles with UV protection are a must. Lip balm/Chapstick is also a necessity.

Ski apparel

Appropriate dress can make or break your day on the slopes. It is worth investing in a pair of waterproof ski pants as jeans get wet and do not allow enough movement. It is best to dress in layers as temperatures can vary from day to day. A waterproof shell is your best bet for a jacket, with a fleece and under layers for additional warmth. Contrary to popular belief, the thinnest pair of cotton socks is essential in boot comfort, allowing for optimal circulation and boot fit. Additional comfort can be achieved by wearing highly breathable clothing specifically made for winter outdoor activities. Neck gators, hats, facemasks and goggles are also highly recommended.


First-time skiers and snowboarders are highly recommended to take a lesson with the Ski & Ride School. It is imperative to learn proper technique in order to prevent injury and make the sport more enjoyable. Whether you want to learn a new sport, improve your skills or just want to find the powder stashes that only the locals know, the mountain’s Ski & Ride School has the program for you. Many mountains also have early morning guided tours with an “ambassador.” Others have guides you can ski/snowboard with. Going out with an instructor or guide or ambassador helps you ski more confidently and also brings you to trails you might not have done on your own. Especially during busy holiday times, it is recommended to book a lesson online, in advance.

Purchase your lift tickets in advance

Breckenridge lets you pre-purchase lift tickets online 7 days in advance and save up to $100 on a 6-day ticket. Plus, you’ll get to skip the ticket window and go straight to the lifts. Purchase Lift Tickets Online.

For those coming from a distance, ski-and-stay packages offer excellent value, as do multi-day tickets, which also can be purchased in advance. Vail Resorts‘ season Epic Pass allows for unlimited skiing at all six resorts (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly and Northstar-at-Tahoe) plus Arapahoe Basin. Other ski areas often have collaborative tickets with one or more partner resorts.

How to carry your equipment

Walking in ski boots while carrying your skis and poles is challenging. It is best to keep your boots unbuckled until you have arrived at the base of the chairlift. The best way to carry your equipment is to put your skis over your shoulder and carry both poles in your other hand.


Do a little pre-planning in figuring out how to get around mountain area – it can help you decide which hotel or condo is really a better value, considering the amount of time spent getting to the base area, and its accessibility to a shuttle service. Many resorts have free shuttle systems so you don’t need a car. Check out the time schedule.

For example, at Breckenridge, while a number of properties are within walking distance of historic Main Street or the slopes, Breckenridge is served by the Free Ride Transportation System. The Free Ride travels routes through Breckenridge connecting the resort’s base areas and free parking lots, runs the perimeter of downtown, stops at the Ice Rink, City Market, Recreation Center, Village and Four O’clock Roads, Columbine and Broken Lance Drive and Peak 9.

Keystone also has a superb free shuttle bus system that gets you all around the resort (and after regular hours of scheduled service, you only have to call and the bus comes). The County also offers a free bus to Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge.


Most mountain resorts these days are casual, so you don’t have to bring extra dress-up clothes and shoes (important considerations when you are trying to keep baggage fees to a minimum). Breckenridge, for example, prides itself in being a laid back, casual mountain town. No need to bring your high-heels or dress clothes. Jeans and a sweater/fleece are the norm around here.