Avoiding Altitude Sickness on Your Snowboarding Trip


One of the best things about extreme sports is that they can take you to some interesting places.  What generally makes them so interesting, however, is that they are as inhospitable as hell.  Whether we’re talking about the top of a mountain or the bottom of the ocean, the pressure on our bodies testifies to the fact that naturally, we shouldn’t be there.  But who wants nature telling them where they can go? When it comes to snowboarding and other mountain sports, aside from obviously injury, the biggest health risk is altitude sickness.

altitude sickness

While it is very rare for altitude sickness in people on sports vacations to develop into more dangerous, sometimes fatal conditions (though it is possible, so if you notice any severe symptoms and you are over 9,000 feet, get down as fast as you can and seek medical advice), it can still suck a lot of the joy out of a snowboarding trip to have to spend half of it riding out the symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms?

Altitude sickness, also sometimes called Acute Mountain Sickness or sometimes “soroche” generally starts to occur at around 6,300 feet.  Around 20% of people will begin to experience mild symptoms after being at this kind of altitude for a few hours.  The first symptoms you will notice will be something like having a killer hangover – nausea, weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, a fast heartbeat and possibly pins and needles. This is unlikely to be totally debilitating, but it’s not what you want if you’re trying to make the most of your vacation or put in a decent performance on the slopes.  The higher you go and the faster you ascend, the more likely it is you will develop these kinds of symptoms.

Is There Anything I Could Take to Help?

There are a few supplements available that can help you acclimatize and alleviate any symptoms you may be experiencing while you do, and it can often be worth adding some stuff like this to your list as a precaution, especially if you’ve had altitude sickness symptoms on previous trips.  Brands like Acli-Mate offer supplements specifically designed for sports users.

Gingko Biloba, which sounds like some kind of Lord of the Rings creature but is actually a herbal supplement used for various things including, according to a website about herbs, “mental clarity”, has been shown to help in some on location tests, but you need to start taking it two weeks before you go to get the benefits then continue with it while you are at altitude.

One other solution used traditionally in the Andes is to chew on coca leaves, but those are not readily available.  Well, not in a form you can legally take with you on your snowboarding trip, anyway…

What Else Can I Do?

Staying hydrated is very important, as your body loses moisture more rapidly at altitude and quite often what people take to be signs of altitude sickness are actually just the effects of dehydration.  Boringly, this means that alcohol is a bad idea, given it has a diuretic effect, but since you’re on vacation and nobody likes a website that takes an “anti-fun” stance we’ll just say that if you do drink, make sure you drink more than enough water to counteract any dehydrating effects from the booze.