12 Dec 2020
UPDATED NOVEMBER 2023
Colorado, in general, is a high-elevation destination, sitting at 5,280 feet in the city center. In the high country, elevation continues to increase among the mountain towns. High elevation areas such as Aspen Snowmass have lower atmospheric pressure, meaning less pressure pushing the oxygen into your lungs. This can leave you feeling like you are struggling to breathe.
Visitors traveling from sea level or lower altitude locations should allow time to acclimate to the higher altitude to help prevent altitude sickness, which can dampen your vacation.
We’ve compiled some information to help you understand the effects of altitude sickness and how to prepare for your travels.
Is Aspen High Altitude?
The elevation of Aspen is 7,908 feet at the town’s center. However, if you intend on skiing, riding, or hiking any of the four mountains, be aware that some of these areas reach elevations of more than 11,000 feet! Both elevations are considered high altitudes, and visitors should prepare for their bodies to acclimate.
Can You Get Altitude Sickness in Aspen?
While most visitors don’t get altitude sickness, some travelers may not adjust as well and may experience symptoms of altitude illness.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
Some of the first signs of high-altitude illness are headache, lightheadedness, weakness, trouble sleeping, and an upset stomach. More severe symptoms can include difficulty breathing or confusion, though these side effects are rare and warrant medical attention.
Most Aspen visitors do not experience altitude sickness, particularly if they have prepared themselves for the adjustment. Travelers headed to higher altitudes, such as 14,000 feet, are more at risk for severe altitude sickness, which can be serious. Severe sickness is not common at elevations under 8,000 feet.
The most common form of altitude sickness is Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS. The main symptom of AMS is a headache, but it may also include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, inability to sleep, and dizziness. Symptoms usually resolve within 1-3 days without treatment.
Two other more severe forms of altitude sickness include High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, or HAPE, and High Altitude Cerebral Edema, or HACE. These forms of altitude sickness can be potentially dangerous as they can increase fluid build-up in the lungs or brain.
HAPE starts with a progressive breathlessness sensation attributed to dilated blood vessels in the lungs that is often recognized by its signature frothy cough. If not treated, fluid can fill the lungs and potentially cause heart failure. People with conditions such as asthma are more susceptible to HAPE.
HACE is similar, although it affects the blood vessels in the brain, which can lead to dangerous brain swelling.
Both of these conditions require immediate medical attention upon the first symptoms. While rare, they can both be very dangerous.
Tips to Avoid Altitude Sickness While in Aspen
Allow yourself time to acclimate. Take it slow during your first day or two in Aspen, and do not exert too much energy when you first arrive. Listen to your body!
Drink water. Hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate some more. Drink as much water as you can. Fluids will help the body adjust as altitude helps accelerate dehydration. Add electrolytes to your daily consumption, such as sports drinks (mixing with water to minimize sugar). Stay away from alcohol or caffeine. Aspen has a great public water supply, and bottled water is available at several locations around town. Plan on drinking twice the amount of water that you would at home.
Add a humidifier. The high and dry air of Aspen is a challenge. Adding a humidifier to your room will add moisture to the air, further aiding in combating the dry mountain air.
Eat well. Eat light carbs such as pasta, and avoid "heavier" foods.
Descend. If you are affected by altitude sickness, the first step is to lower your elevation. Going down in altitude of 1,000 or 2,000 feet may help the body return to normal. Remember not to ascend again until you are 100 percent better! When you do ascend, avoid increasing by more than 1,000 feet per day so your body can adjust.
Give Your Body Time to Adjust. Before you even attempt that hike or ski/snowboard day, make sure you’ve allowed at least a day of rest to acclimate. Take this time to peruse the town at the lower elevation.
Supplements. An anti-inflammatory like Aleve or Advil may help with the discomfort and headaches. Do not take sleeping pills. Ginkgo has been known to enhance circulation, which means more oxygen in your body. Studies show taking a ginkgo extract can be effective if taken one day before arrival, but is more effective if taken five days prior.
Prepare for the Sun. Another side effect of a higher altitude is a higher chance of sunburn. Because the risk of sunburn, or sunstroke, increases, be prepared with lip balm, sunscreen, sunglasses, or other forms of protection during the sunny summer days.
Getting that Oxygen Boost
Aspen has resources in town to help visitors reduce or alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness:
Oxygen Now is a physician-run service that delivers oxygen to your door. They also include a portable pharmacy to help alleviate altitude sickness symptoms.
Rescue Lounge in downtown Aspen provides IV therapy to help combat dehydration, a trigger for altitude sickness. They also offer a concierge delivery service if you want IV therapy in the comfort of your vacation home.
Carl’s Pharmacy is Aspen’s local pharmacy for non-medical grade oxygen boosters.
We are Your Local Guides to Aspen Snowmass
Frias Properties offers Aspen's largest selection of centrally located vacation rentals, and we have served Aspen's guests for more than 45 years. Our Aspen-based Reservations Team and Concierge are happy to answer any questions about traveling to our destination.
Please ask us for advice on this topic and others! Contact us or start your search for the perfect Aspen vacation rental.