Answered by on Monday, June 1, 2009
Altitude sickness—which is generally experienced as nausea, headaches, shortness of breath, dizziness, and sleeplessness—is a physiological response to the reduced atmospheric pressure (and thus, reduced oxygen) present at high altitudes, explains Andy Walshe, Ph.D., director of sport science for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard teams. At higher altitudes—even a change of 3,000 to 4,000 feet—oxygen is not being forced into the bloodstream with the usual pressure, and the body struggles to get the amount of oxygen it's used to," says Walshe. "The result is an inability to exercise vigorously." To combat altitude sickness, Walshe recommends spending a few days acclimating at a slightly lower altitude than your final destination. Limit your physical exertion during the first two or three days, and drink plenty of water—a half a gallon to a gallon, spaced evenly throughout the day—to reverse the effects of dehydration. "Your body dehydrates the first few days at the higher altitude, and that makes the symptoms worse and longer-lasting. Stay away from coffee, tea, alcohol, and other diuretics during those first few days. "Take your time, get acclimatized, and work into your skiing." says Walshe. "In some cases, we take a full week to get the guys up to the full load. Unfortunately, if you're only going for one week, that's pretty much your vacation." You can prepare before you leave by making sure you're in good shape. "It depends on the person, but in general, the better shape you're in, the more quickly you'll adapt to the new altitude.