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Staying Healthy at High Elevation

Altitude awareness

Mountain Weather

The Rocky Mountains are notorious for unpredictable and rapidly changing weather. The best way to be prepared is to dress in layers that can be added or removed incrementally as the weather changes. A waterproof outer layer is crucial as well as waterproof gloves. For insulating layers, cotton is not recommended because it becomes cold and heavy as it absorbs water and sweat. Remember to shed layers when hot to prevent sweating because later you will likely be cold and damp from the sweat. An extra pair of dry socks and/or gloves can be helpful.

Intense Sun

For every 1,000 feet above sea level, you are exposed to about 5% more UV. This means that at Wolf Creek’s summit, a person receives nearly 60% more UV exposure than a person at sea level. Moreover, snow reflects UV very effectively, multiplying exposure. Applying and reapplying sunscreen is crucial, even on a cloudy day. Consider lip balm with sunscreen in it as well. Sunglasses or goggles with UV protection are essential.

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is caused by gaining elevation more quickly than your body can adjust to the thin air at high elevations. The result is that your body is robbed of oxygen. Mild cases are common and symptoms include throbbing headache and nausea. Typically, this can be avoided by drinking plenty of water and resting your first day at high elevations to give your body a chance to adjust. The only “cure” is to go back to lower elevations, although that may not be necessary. Severe cases are rare but can be serious. If you experience confusion, loss of motor skills, trouble breathing, or blue/gray lips or fingernails, see ski patrol immediately. Prescription medications are available to speed your acclimation to high altitude; consult your doctor.