Copper Mountain Resort: A Bottle of Oxygen with your Black Diamond?

If the oxygen bar isn't doing the trick, the Copper Mountain Medical Clinic is conveniently located near Center Village.
If the oxygen bar isn’t doing the trick, the Copper Mountain Medical Clinic is conveniently located near Center Village.

A Skier Experiences a Prescription for Thin air at 9,752 ft

By Sonja Stark

While many gathered inside the small eatery to enjoy a basket of bourbon smoked brisket and side of slaw, others waited their turn to stuff a plastic tube in each nostril and breath oxygen-rich air.

The Eagle BBQ, at the base of Copper Mountain Resort in Center Village, doubles as what is known as an “oxygen bar.” Though the machines aren’t medical-issued they are a wildly popular trend at high altitude resorts that do seem to make a difference for sea-level skiers like Angela Cangemi of Saratoga Springs.

Don’t let high altitudes bring you down! The oxygen bar at Center Village Eagle BBQ helped this Saratoga-native tackle some of her early symptoms of acute mountain sickness.

Cangemi dropped $20 to inhale an infusion of lavender-scented oxygen aromatherapy that, she hoped, would relieve her acute mountain sickness or AMS for short. “Anything to help me return to the slopes,” she admitted.

No Headaches

Unlike in the Northeast, the snow in Colorado is forgiving when you fall and Cangemi didn’t want to risk missing out on the fun. 20-minutes later, feeling alert, and breathing better, she admitted that her headache was gone too.

Even guests already acclimated to thin air, like Summit County locals, snow-bike enthusiasts, Zac Baker and Fernando Carreon, seek-out a hit of pure oxygen to calm their nerves.

Both millennials are converts to the sport that had them riding on a metal frame welded to a pair of short skis when I met them.

Snow biking is one of many ways to experience 148 trails spanning 2,527 acres of "rock" at Copper Mountain Resort.
Snow biking is one of many ways to experience 148 trails spanning 2,527 acres of “rock” at Copper Mountain Resort.

“Snow biking is more of a thrill than traditional skiing and Copper makes us feel welcome because the lifts accommodate the bikes.” Older skiers like to snow-bike too because it’s easier on the joints.

Christine and Kyle Simpson, a married couple from New Hampshire came to Copper to celebrate their babymoon: a term coined for the last hurrah before adopting a baby.

The first-time Copper guests were sucking down a High Rockies margarita at the bar inside El Zacatecano Mexican restaurant in Center Village when they volunteered to share their cocktail. It came in a gigantic glass the size of a ski helmet.

Diamox Just in Case

They admitted they didn’t experience any short-term altitude-woes yet but knew enough to drink plenty of liquids though alcohol is not one of them. The pair carried Diamox medicine with them, just in case.

Even the T-shirts for sale in the Center Village shops are reminders that cures and preventions exist for acute mountain sickness.
Even the T-shirts for sale in the Center Village shops are reminders that cures and preventions exist for acute mountain sickness.

The staff inside the ski and snowboard rental shop pointed me to a tall display of canisters of supplemental bottled oxygen. “Why suffer when you don’t have to,” they said.

Seems so everybody I talked to at Copper Mountain was privy to the negative effects of playing at high altitudes and took precautions to avoid it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know it was happening to me until it was a little too late, however, the resort came to my rescue.

I pride myself on being a shining beacon of health so I when I arrived at Copper Mountain four days earlier I was already feeling a little fatigued. I blamed it on the early morning flight.

Heart of the Village

The Summit Express Shuttle driver dropped me off at Passage Point, a six-floor lodge in the heart of Center Village within walking distance to chairlifts, restaurants, and après-ski nightlife.

Weak and disoriented, I struggled to lift my suitcase, and find the elevator. I waved the magnetic key at the door and stumbled in with my bags upon entry. Unable to enjoy the condo’s cozy amenities – gas fireplace, balcony views, and squeaky clean kitchen – I pulled the shades and recoiled under the bed covers.

I recuperated from AMS in a room on the sixth floor at Passage Point condominium in Center Village. For my purposes, the ideal location to find my way to the nearby clinic.
I recuperated from AMS in a room on the sixth floor at Passage Point condominium in Center Village. For my purposes, the ideal location to find my way to the nearby clinic.

Perhaps skipping the afternoon and evening itinerary would help? But, come the next morning, I felt worse.

My itinerary of skiing, skating and riding a horse-drawn sleigh ride under the stars was careening down the mountain like an avalanche of misery.

More Fresh Snow

Outside the window, freshly-fallen snow blanketed miles of unspoiled, serpentine trails. Crowds of terrain-junkies lined up for the new high-speed gondola and blue bubble chair.

The new Rocky Mountain alpine coaster in Center Village will take you cruising through the forest year round.
The new Rocky Mountain alpine coaster in Center Village will take you cruising through the forest year round.

And, despite the cold, even the new Rocky Mountain alpine coaster, a one-person bobsled, was open for rides.

My PR contact, Taylor Prather, encouraged me to triage myself to the nearby St. Anthony Copper Mountain clinic where a team of physicians and staff could help diagnose and treat the cause of my chills and extreme malaise.

“We pride ourselves on quality care,” she said.

A Guest in Labor

A few weeks earlier, the clinic responded to a guest in active labor by helping deliver a healthy 5-pound, 7-ounce baby girl. The mom so grateful she christened her child with the middle name ‘Copper’ as a tribute to the resort.

During check-in, the couple ahead of me said that they had driven all the way from Breckenridge to get help at Copper because the service was “so outstanding.”

Since 1985, Dr. Steve Yarberry has been treating guests at Copper with ski injuries, acute mountain sickness, even unexpected labor at the resort!
Since 1985, Dr. Steve Yarberry has been treating guests at Copper with ski injuries, acute mountain sickness, even unexpected labor at the resort!

Since the clinic opened in the early 80s, doctors like Steve Yarberry have treated guests who struggle with the onset of headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, and loss of appetite: symptoms clearly associated with Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS.

“The symptoms are common.  Roughly twenty-five percent of our guest population is affected,” said Yarberry. The severity of the condition goes up dramatically when someone ascends to over 9,000 feet.

Nine-thousand feet is significant for Copper because basecamp at Center Village alone sits at 9,752 ft. If you ascend the summit, you’re at 12,313 ft. Copper is considered one of the top 10 highest places to ski in the United States.

Resident Physician Elsie Haynes of the Copper Mountain clinic provided me with a number of tests including x-rays to help diagnosis my condition.
Resident Physician Elsie Haynes of the Copper Mountain clinic provided me with a number of tests including x-rays to help diagnosis my condition.

With the same urgency and compassion as was shown other patients, I was diagnosed with hypoxemia and flu-like symptoms.

A regiment of oxygen therapy inside my condo and portable tanks for the next 48 hours helped to put the color back in my cheeks, sleep better and improve my appetite.

Homeopathic Remedies

When Taylor went so far as to volunteer to drive to the nearest drug store for a goodie bag of homeopathic remedies that the doctor prescribed, I knew I was in a resort unlike any other.  My cold chills abated and I felt like new again but still in no condition to push the envelope.

Because I’m susceptible to AMS, Yarberry’s parting words for me: “Ski high and sleep low” the next time you’re in Colorado.

Hannah Milks and her buddies warm up around an opulent outdoor gas fireplace.
Hannah Milks and her buddies warm up around a large outdoor gas fireplace.

Back at Center Village, a playground of happy guests surrounded a gas-fueled warming station.  The clouds lifted revealing stunning views of the surrounding mountains and bowls.

Suddenly, a young girl sporting the coolest dreadlocks and munching down on a hummus wrap jumped in front of my camera lens and asked: “Hey, where did you get that hat? I want it! Can I have it?”

POWDR

My new grey fleece beanie had the words “POWDR” emblazoned on one side. (POWDR is one of the last standing independent ski companies that owns Copper and eight other world-class, year-round mountain resorts.)

“It’s a gift from the PR folks. Why?” I asked.

“Because that hat is limited-edition. It’s only worn by the coolest people – the employees of Copper Mountain! ”

(I couldn’t agree more.)

Despite how miserable I felt leaving the resort sans enjoying its true purpose it was comforting knowing that I still looked like I belonged.

The 2018-2019 ski season at Copper Mountain closes on April 21.  

Après ski is a tradition as old as skiing itself and this couple has reason to celebrate - an adopted baby is on the way when they get home to New Hampshire.
Après ski is a tradition as old as skiing itself and this couple has reason to celebrate – an adopted baby is on the way when they get home to New Hampshire.
Extended families from the west coast and east coast meet in the middle at Copper for winter family reunions.
Extended families from the west coast and east coast meet in the middle at Copper for winter reunions.
Like this article? Share it with your friends!