Austrian Ski Area Warning SignAccording to a recent post in eTurboNews, “Skiers and other winter sports tourists who visit the Alps are at increased risk for heart attack due to low temperatures, high altitude and inadequate conditioning for intense physical exertion…”. The article further clarifies that, “The risk is greatest during the first two days of vacation…”, and that “People planning winter sports holidays in the mountains need to prepare themselves with regular exercise beforehand, the study authors suggested. Once at the resort, they should increase their level of physical activity gradually…”.

This is interesting news to me personally in that my wife used to be a cardiac rehab therapist in an earlier career and I know that she has plenty of tips that would range from the exercise regimen mentioned in the article to eating a heart healthy diet. The data cited in this study is European only, but I would suspect that it should translate to the American winter sports traveller as well, perhaps even more so as most Americans that ski or ride live at or near sea level and the average base level of Western ski resorts is far above (around 7-8,000 feet in CO and UT) the average mean altitude of where heart attacks in the study occurred – 4,429 feet.

Without correlating US data, it’s hard to know for sure if there’s similar trending of heart attacks with winter sports tourists, but it would certainly be easy for ski resorts to offer some basic safety information on heart health in terms of pre-trip exercise as well as acclimating and starting physical exertion at altitude at a moderate pace – perhaps a program along the lines of Go Sun Smart would be a helpful first step?

Additional Note : I wrote this post on the morning of September 6 (I try to schedule a few posts ahead of time to make the writing a bit easier by doing it in batches), our family attended Park City’s annual Miner’s Day parade later that morning and wound up steps away from a person who suffered a heart attack while waiting for the parade to start. I hope the best for that person but the freak timing gave me more thought that perhaps there are some things that tourism locales at altitude could do to help educate their guests on the effects of altitude.

Photo credit: Flick user katz2110