What is Acute Mountain Sickness?
As anyone who has ventured thousands of feet above sea level can attest, "altitude sickness", or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), can be a real and uncomfortable (sometimes dangerous) condition. Most people can reach 8,000 feet without experience altitude sickness, but some people can experience symptoms as low as 5,000 feet above sea level.
What is Snowbird's elevation?
Snowbird’s base elevation, at the Snowbird Center, is 8,100 feet. All of the scientific sessions, posters, exhibits and networking events will take place at this elevation. For reference, the elevation in Santa Fe for the NNS 2015 symposium was 7,200 feet.
Snowbird’s highest point is at The Summit on Hidden Peak where the Tram docks, which is 11,000 feet. The only NNS event being held at The Summit is the Welcome Reception on Sunday evening. Cocktails and appetizers will be available at the tram base loading station for those who do not wish to ascend.
We have compiled a few tips to help you prepare for your visit to Snowbird and to avoid altitude sickness in the mountains:
This is the best way to help your body adjust to high altitude. Generally the low humidity at altitude keeps the air dry, so you should drink twice as much water as you would at home. Also keep in mind that you want to add water to your body, not deplete it. At least initially, avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Foods rich in potassium are great for acclimating. Some good staples to eat include broccoli, bananas, avocado, cantaloupe, celery, greens, bran, chocolate, granola, dates, dried fruit, potatoes and tomatoes. Do your body a favor and decrease salt intake. Additionally, complex carbohydrates are great for stabilizing your blood sugar and maintaining energy. Eat plenty of whole grains, pasta, fruits, and vegetables.
3. Easy does it
You will feel the effects of exercise more at altitude than at home. By all means, get after it. But dial back the effort if you’re short of breath, sore, or consistently fatigued.
This isn’t just a technical term mountain climbers throw around to sound cool. Adjusting to higher altitude can take a few days. If you have the time, consider spending a night or two at an intermediate altitude—say, spend a night or two in Salt Lake City before heading up to Snowbird. If that’s not an option, plan calmer activities the first 24-48 hours of your trip.
5. Doctor’s orders
If you’re concerned about altitude sickness, visit your doctor before your trip. They can go over common symptoms and may even recommend acetazolamide, also known as Diamox, the most common drug for altitude sickness prevention and treatment. Non-prescriptive antidotes for altitude sickness symptoms include ibuprofen to relieve altitude-induced headaches, personal oxygen canisters and ginger chews, capsules or tea to settle the stomach. Snowbird also offers specialized High Altitude Relief massage treatments that may help alleviate symptoms.
6. Seek help
Whether your symptoms are consistently mildly uncomfortable or they’re acute, altitude sickness is real and can be debilitating. If attempts to alleviate them don’t work, head to the nearest medical clinic. Intermountain Healthcare operates an onsite Snowbird Medical Clinic staffed by knowledgeable medical professionals who understand the impacts of altitude on the body and can help. If you experience any of these symptoms at altitude and wonder whether you have AMS, you can score yourself to find out.