Risk of thin air

Olympian Kris Klug lives at high elevations, but somebody from Dallas or Houston might temper their enthusiasm for skiing hard as soon as they get into a mountain resort.Photo/Jeremy Swanson, Aspen Skiing Co.

Olympian Kris Klug lives at high elevations, but somebody from Dallas or Houston might temper their enthusiasm for skiing hard as soon as they get into a mountain resort.
Photo/Jeremy Swanson, Aspen Skiing Co.

Dallas at noon, skiing by dusk?

Probably not the best idea

by Allen Best

A new study from the Alps finds a heightened risk factor for men who ascend from low elevations to mountain destinations and immediately begin physical activity.

The study authors sent questionnaires to the relatives of more than 550 men over the age of 34 who had died on hiking trips in the Austrian Alps. Most of the men were hiker or skiers, and half of them died on the first day of their trips, notes Reuters in a May 13 story.

“The researchers found that men who slept below 2,300 feet were more than five times as likely to die on the first day in the mountain as men who slept above 4,261 feet.

“We guess that sleeping at altitude was protective – those who slept at altitude required sufficient amounts of acclimatization to reduce their risk,” said Dr. Benjamin Levine and Dr. Martin Burtscher.

They added that “unaccustomed physical activity is probably a more important trigger than altitude per se.”

“It suggests that the worst thing a middle age male can do is fly from New York or Houston and drive directly to Breckenridge and then start walking around,” says Dr. Peter Hackett, director of the Institute for Alpine Medicine in Telluride.

The risk of heart attack, he added, is  “still quite low, but it’s still much higher if you do that kind of activity.”

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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