As many of you know, Ski Aspen has a partner business that runs trekking and climbing expeditions in Nepal (https://trekclimbskinepal.com.au/). We have 27 years experience in high altitude environments and know that staying healthy at altitude is critical to the success of our Nepal adventures. Not surprisingly, it’s just as important to the enjoyment of your holiday in Aspen.
It’s frustrating that each Aspen season, a percentage of our guests come down with coughs, colds and various other ailments that can cause them to lose valuable ski days. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?
Unlike in Canada, Japan or Australia, there is a significant altitude component that comes with skiing in Colorado.
In Aspen, we sleep at just over 2400 metres above sea-level. This is a big altitude to arrive at directly from sea-level. Consider too that at Snowmass, we ski from as high as 3800m. This is an altitude that you cannot ascend immediately to from sea-level and sleep overnight at safely. Notwithstanding we take a few days before we ski at Snowmass, and we don’t ever spend prolonged periods at 3800m, it’s still a big jolt for our body to absorb. With the reduction in air pressure and lower oxygen levels that come with being at altitude, our immune system becomes vulnerable. Add dehydration, late nights, dry air, physical exertion, jet lag and possibly even some alcohol 🤔, and our bodies have quite an adjustment to make.
The amazing thing is, our bodies will adapt and can cope with the physiological changes that occur when we ascend higher. But it does take time. For the altitude you’ll experience in Aspen, 3 – 4 days is usually all it takes for most of us to properly acclimatise. We agree, 3 – 4 days is a reasonable chunk of any holiday, so we’re not suggesting you begin your Aspen adventure like you’ve checked into a religious retreat. But a few smart moves and a little moderation – especially at the start – will make a world of difference to your acclimatisation process and ultimately the fun you’re going to have out on the slopes.
Before you go
1. Be sure to have the flu shot before you leave Australia. Even though this vaccination is primarily effective against the Aussie flu virus strain, staying healthy and fit in the lead up helps.
2. Take a good multivitamin daily. I always load up on vitamin A and D in the build-up to any mountain adventure. Cod liver oil is the best! It doesn’t taste the best but it really helps you to build up a strong immunity to colds, flu and general bugs. You can get odourless cod liver oil tablets too! If you can handle it, a tablespoon of Hypol each day is the bomb: https://www.fgb.com.au/product/hypol
3. Get fit. Sounds like a no-brainer and it is. The fitter you are, the more you’ll enjoy your skiing. Aerobic fitness and leg strength is key.
4. Avoid being around friends and relatives that have any bugs, colds etc… before you leave. Quarantine yourself if necessary! Sounds harsh but you are preparing for your Aspen ski holiday so be a little selfish if you have to!
On the plane
No grog. 😬😭 Lots of water.
We didn’t say it was going to be easy!
When you arrive
Do you have the time available to just chill for a day or two? Maybe a night in Denver (1609 metres) en route to Aspen? If you do, and you can suppress the excitement of getting out on the hill straight away, 24 – 48 hours taking it easy and letting your body adjust to the altitude will pay you back in spades. Remember, if you’ve flown straight into Aspen, you have just arrived at 2400 metres straight from sea-level. On our Nepal trips, we make sure all our guests have at least 2 nights at 1350 metres prior to ascending to 2400 metres or higher. This is industry best practice for a thorough acclimatisation process. Of course, we’re usually planning to go much higher in Nepal, but if we were able to apply a similar strategy to an Aspen ski holiday, it would be hugely beneficial.
Okay, here are some things you can do…
1. Stay hydrated and eat plenty. We hear a lot about the importance of being hydrated in the mountains and at altitude. In Nepal, we often use a refractometer to measure hydration. We do this primarily to show people that even when they are consuming more fluids, they are still dehydrated. At altitude, and especially at 2400 metres and above, we dehydrate rapidly even when sleeping. When we wake up in Aspen, our first move is usually coffee or tea. Not many of us have a litre of water before heading out the door but we should. Food is just as important so eat up – especially at breakfast and lunch. Industry best practice for a thorough acclimatisation includes a gradual rate of ascent combined with plenty of fluid and food. Drinking a litre of water before going to bed every night – as hard as that is for some – will set you up for success.
2. Reduce your alcohol intake – especially at the start of your trip. I know we don’t make this easy with our social gatherings but please take it easy, especially over those first few days. Alternate each beer or wine with a glass of water. If you can avoid alcohol on the flight over that will really help too.
3. Get the flu shot as soon as you arrive in Aspen. You can get this at the City Market pharmacy for about $25. This really is a must-do and will help you prevent catching those nasty bugs that float around the town.
4. Take a day off if your body tells you too. We know, we know… this is your holiday and you just have to ski everyday… because you always do. But don’t forget you are skiing in Aspen for at least 2 weeks. This is a marathon not a sprint. Taking a rest day here and there (we include them in the itinerary) is super important. It gives your body a chance to recover so you can stay strong for the duration.
5. Follow our program. There is a reason we start on Buttermilk Mountain and build up from there. It’s important not to smash yourself on the first few days. You need to feel pleasantly fatigued leading into that first rest day.
I hope this helps and any questions please get in touch. It’s much more fun when everyone says fit and healthy for the duration.
About the author
Nick Farr is widely regarded as one of Australia’s most accomplished high altitude athletes and leadership/resilience development coaches. He has climbed many of the world’s highest mountains (including Mt Everest) and he has led and coached more than 1000 people in challenging high altitude environments.
Nick has more than 15 years’ experience delivering leadership and resilience programs, workshops and keynotes to schools, athletes, corporates and teams. With a wealth of experience in the logistics, psychology and management of people in difficult and challenging environments, he teaches a unique approach to leadership, resilience and teamwork. Nick’s business experience includes founding and operating Ski Aspen (since 1996), Trek Climb Ski Nepal (since 2006), The Everest Academy (since 2013) and Resilience Builders (since 2017). Nick has been skiing Aspen Snowmass every year since 1991.