Worst case scenario: You have a week-long vacation of glorious powder skiing but for the first 2-3 days you find yourself fatigued, nauseous, headachey and with a rapid pulse, unable to ski for more than a couple hours, if at all. So much for those pow days. Adjusting to high altitude is no joke, but there are things you can do before you arrive at high altitude to ensure this doesn’t happen to you.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) occurs due to lower-oxygen pressure at altitudes at or above 8,000 ft above sea level. The best way to acclimatize to high-altitude conditions is to give your body several days to adjust to the altitude without doing strenuous activity (like skiing). But who has time for this?
To help your body adjust to high-altitude conditions more quickly, you should be preparing before you ever leave home. Here are some tips that will have you feeling great and skiing your best without any loss of time on the mountain.
According to The Wilderness Medical Society Practice Guidelines for the Treatment and Prevention of Acute Altitude Illness: 2014 Update, keeping well hydrated is important to prevent AMS, but overhydration by drinking water above and beyond what your body needs can be detrimental to performance by inducing hyponatremia, an electrolyte imbalance.
So how much water do you need? If you are flying to your destination, be sure to drink plenty of water on the plane. The dry air on the airplane can exacerbate dehydration. Bring bottles of water with you when you travel, and avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which can be dehydrating.
The best way to tell if you are maintaining proper hydration is to look at the color of your pee. If it is the color of pale straw or transparent yellow, you are doing well. If it is colorless and looks just like water, you probably need to cut back on what you are drinking because you risk over-hydration and electrolyte imbalance. If your pee is dark-yellow or darker, you need to drink more. Here’s a handy infographic.
Despite what you may have heard, alcohol does not make you drunker at high altitude. However, drinking alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms of AMS. Don’t despair – you don’t need to lay off the booze apres-ski forever! But for the first day or 2 of your vacation, you may be better off to skip the drinks until your body has acclimatized. After that, be sure to drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you have to offset the dehydrating effects of the alcohol.
One of the best things you can do for you body before any ski trip is to make sure have nourished yourself well beforehand. In the weeks before your ski trip, pay particular attention to the overall quality of your diet. By making sure that you have a healthy foundation, it will be easier for your body to acclimatize. And don’t try to fake it by just loading up on supplements; antioxidant supplements don’t make any difference.
Beet juice is rich in nitrates and has been used for quite a while in helping with performance with various types of athletes. A new study indicates that it is useful in helping to combat AMS. Find out more, including recipes for how to include this in your diet, here.
If you have the luxury of time, the best way to acclimatize is to increase altitude slowly. If you can, spend a day or more at an altitude midway between where you are starting from and where you are going.
Acetazolamide is regularly used to prevent and treat AMS. Before you go, check with your doctor to see if this is a good solution for you.
©2016 Diana Sugiuchi, RDN/LDN