How to Prevent Altitude Sickness

Ski season is starting! Prevent mountain sickness with these easy steps, which include drinking plenty of water and eating carbohydrates.


You’ve spent months planning an amazing mountain getaway—picking the perfect destination, booking accommodations and securing the best deal on airfare. The luggage is packed, all of the skis are freshly waxed, and you’re determined that this year, the added hours spent in the gym to get into super ski shape will pay off on the peaks. Later, while you’re rejoicing in the fact that schlepping your family and all that gear through the airports has gone reasonably smoothly, you’re ready to attack the slopes as soon as you arrive.

Twenty-four hours later, there are complaints of headaches, weakness, dizziness, waking up during the night, nausea and even some vomiting has occurred. The kids are feeling it too, so it can’t be a hangover. While thoughts of airport food poisoning start running through your mind, there’s a likely explanation you may not have considered during your careful planning: altitude sickness.

How High Can You Go?

The base lodge is at 8,000 feet, the chairlifts peak at just over 10,000 feet—you and your family have just come from sea level. You or members of your family are experiencing signs of mild altitude sickness, or acute mountain sickness. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be climbing Mt. Everest to start feeling signs of altitude sickness—symptoms may occur as low as 6,000 feet above sea level.

The most typical cause of altitude sickness is simply going too high, too fast—like flying into a higher altitude city and immediately driving up into the mountains to reach your resort. Jumping into an immediate activity like skiing or hiking (which require moderate to strenuous exertion) before letting your body acclimate to the thinner air can bring on the symptoms.

Altitude sickness is non-discriminatory. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, young or old, physically fit or slightly overweight, though, people with heart or lung problems should exercise caution at altitude and consult a doctor before embarking on any high altitude trip.

Children are just as likely to feel mild symptoms of altitude sickness, but may adjust more easily. It’s best to keep a watchful eye on them and often ask them how they’re feeling, as well as following these tips.

4 Tips to Help Avoid Altitude Sickness

1) Hydrate early and often. On the plane, drink as much water as possible, and keep plenty on hand if you’re planning on a long drive to a ski resort, even if it means more bathroom breaks along the way. Drink water throughout the day upon arrival, and keep it by your bed at night, in case you wake up feeling dehydrated. Keep your alcohol intake limited in the first day or so, as tough as it may be to avoid the après ski fun.

2) Consider spending your first day and night at a slightly lower altitude than where you’ll be skiing. Use the time to explore other attractions that require less physical effort—look for museums to visit, historical sites and tours.

3) If you do go straight to the ski resort, try to keep your activities limited to rest and relaxation for the first day. Explore the shops, play a couple of board games in your condo, sit by the fire or take a sleigh ride.

4) Luckily, being at high altitudes gives you an extra excuse to eat well on vacation. Eating high carbohydrate foods such as grains, pastas and breads will help combat some of the symptoms, though you may want to avoid eating too much of these foods in a single meal. As an added bonus, you’ll have more energy for skiing the following day.

If someone in your group is still experiencing symptoms after the first couple of days, check immediately with the staff at your hotel or ski resort about medical care for altitude sickness. Resorts at higher altitudes are experienced in such cases, and may be able to offer oxygen treatment on site, or may recommend that a person get to lower altitude immediately if the case is very severe.

The risk of a ski vacation being ruined by altitude sickness is fairly low, but it’s certainly not worth taking any chances, especially when simple steps can help avoid most problems at high altitude. 

Themes: Mountain Vacations

Activities: Skiing, Snowboarding

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