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Altitude illness, or acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a common affliction among skiers at elevations between 2000 and 4000 m (about 6500–13 000 ft) (moderate altitude). Studies show that at least one in four persons going to these elevations will develop AMS, more than half of whom will be forced to reduce their activities. The constellation of symptoms associated with this entity ranges from minor inconvenience to debilitating or even fatal episodes in a small number of cases. Many ski resorts and associations have in the past been reluctant to educate skiers about AMS because of the potential economic loss from fear of the sickness. Yet the magnitude of the problem suggests that the cost to the ski industry of not educating skiers about AMS is significantly greater in the long run.
In 1991, however, the Colorado Department of Health, the Colorado Department of Tourism, and Colorado Ski Country—USA, in conjunction with the Colorado Altitude Research Institute (CARI) in Keystone, collaborated on an informational statement to educate skiers about problems associated with fast ascent to altitude. This consortium of health care, tourism, and ski industry leaders is unique and serves as a model for other high-altitude communities.
The interest in promoting greater skier safety and enjoyment, however, is a worldwide concern, whether one skies in the Rocky Mountains, the Andes, or the Alps. The purpose of this paper is to encourage the education of persons of all nationalities who ski or exercise above 2000 m (6561 ft) about altitude illness.
high altitude illness, hypoxia, skiing
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Associate professor of medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA