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Each year for the past three years, we've headed high for a family ski vacation. (read more)
I never even knew what AMS was until my family hit Leadville, CO in 2017 for a week long ski vacation at Cooper. As the highest incorporated city in the United States, you're not only skiing over 10,000 feet (almost 12,000 at the summit), but you're also sleeping, eating, and doing all of your relaxing over 10,000 feet, 10,152 to be exact.
For someone who comes from a meager 50 feet above sea level in good ole Houston, Texas, 10,000 feet was a major shock to all of our systems. Within hours of making it to our VRBO we found ourselves headachy, exhausted, nauseous, out of breath, and just feeling terrible in general.
At that point, I had heard of AMS, but I thought it was for out of shape people, not people like me who exercised daily (I was still a Beachbody coach at the time), ate well, and could tackle some serious cardio without stopping for more than a few seconds to catch my breath.
In Leadville, I couldn't even climb the stairs without my heart racing. I would go up a few steps and have to stop. If I went up all 12 stairs, I'd have to literally sit down on the floor and catch my breath, it was ridiculous.
It was also beautiful. Leadville is one of the prettiest places I've ever had the opportunity to visit. We love the town, the mountain, the size, and the people. Giving it up as our chosen ski area isn't an option. As a matter of fact, I just had this discussion with my family last night, making sure they didn't want to try a lower elevation area next year.
As my 11-year-old so succinctly put it, "It's Cooper, or nothing."
So, we've gotten good at trying to figure out things to help us acclimate faster. I've posted before about altitude sickness remedies, and we do find that they help. I'll also be inquiring with our family doctor next year to see if something like Diamox would work for us. But, since that's a year away and nothing I can talk about personally right now, I'm going to stick to something else that has definitely helped.
I feel really weird writing about this. I'm sure I've seen it in a movie somewhere. As a matter of fact, now that I'm writing it down, I realize I'm thinking of Spaceballs.
I mean, here we are, 10,000 feet up, nothing but air around us, and yet, we can't breathe.
So let's spend $15 on a bottle of oxygen.
It sounds ridiculous. I mean, I'd think bottled oxygen for climbing would be a thing. Even bottled oxygen for hikers. But bottled oxygen for people who really aren't doing anything taxing and still sucking wind...that seems lame.
But, it works.
We came in to Leadville on a Saturday night, but since we'd been taking AMS prevention medicine we were feeling pretty good.
Sunday afternoon I had a ski lesson, and that's when I started to notice I was having a harder time. Not only does the 10th Mountain Chair lift take you up to almost 12,000 feet, you're also exerting yourself like crazy as you head down the mountain.
I was sucking wind like a three pack a day smoker, my head was starting to hurt, and I was having trouble paying attention to my instructor.
"You ought to head to Mt. Massive Liquor and get a can of Oxygen."
What? I thought he was kidding. I had no idea this was a real thing.
He went on to explain that he'd come back from being out of town in the off season and had had to reacclimatize to the altitude himself. The liquor store in town sells small canisters of oxygen that fit perfectly into your ski jacket.
Just place the plastic piece under your nose and over your mouth, pull the trigger for a count of "one one thousand" and breath deep.
As soon as we were done with the lesson, I hit the liquor store, which is funny because the one thing I don't do in Leadville is drink. It dries me out, makes me feel terrible, and is absolutely not worth any sort of buzz. I'm not much of a drinker in general, so it's not something I'm going to miss.
The store sold one size (that I could tell, though Amazon says there are multiple sizes). The bottle said there were up to 200 one second inhalations. I bought one for my family, and one for some friends who had come up with us, but we sort of ended up passing them around all week long.
Side note - the bottles are very light, which makes sense since they're full of air. Still, I can't tell you how many times we shook the bottle before use (gotta make sure all that air is mixed right) or went, "I think it's almost empty.", "Did they fill it right?", etc.
It's VERY light.
Back to us passing it around all week. Since you never actually touch the plastic rim with anything other than the skin around your mouth, we weren't worried about passing contagious things. I'm sure if you were coughing and sneezing and had saliva on your skin, it would be more of an issue.
The store sold menthol-eucalyptus, natural, and peppermint, though there also appears to be pink grapefruit sold on Amazon. I got natural, just because I wasn't sure how I'd feel about sniffing flavored air. A little too Spaceballs for me. :)
Despite sounding really odd, it does indeed do what it advertises. A couple of inhalations and my heart stopped racing, my headache went away, and oddly enough, I got hungry again.
The two bottles lasted the entire week between the five of us, and we even have some left now, sitting on the counter. You don't need a lot to make a difference, and using it in conjunction with a AMS preventative really gets the job done.
If you're skeptical about bottled oxygen, I'm happy to tell you that it worked for us, and I hope it works for you as well.