Skiing in the Alps - how much oxygen am I missing?

I spent last week skiing in the French Alps and had a fantastic time - but, of course, it got me thinking about a bunch of skiing-related questions. So, here’s the first one: When I ski, am I getting exhausted quickly because I should be in better shape, or does it really have something to do with less oxygen? The highest run I skied was 3450 meters and spent most of the week skiing above 2600m. It may seem obvious, but I couldn’t perceive ANY lack of oxygen, not even problems catching my breath (any more than jogging at sea level anyway).

The event that prompted my question was when I saw a lady being given oxygen by one of the ski patrols and escorted back to the gondola (she was walking and breathing in an oxygen mask at the same time but it was clear that it was being administered by the ski patrol guys). So, how much does it affect me and at what altitude would I be able to ski significantly longer if I could ski on a lower slope (not much snow this year so I couldn’t really test it myself…)? For information, I live in Paris so it’s not like I’m acclimated to a higher altitude and I ski about 20 days a year (if that matters).


If you were really having problems with lack of oxygen, you would have been short of breath even when you were just sitting still.

You were at 2600 meters most of the week, which is (the low middle end of) High, and at 3450 meters for one ski run, which is Very High.

So your 2600 meters was not really that big a deal. 2438 meters is the low end of High. Maybe you were just a teeny bit out of shape on those… :smiley:

Again, “some people are more susceptible than others.” I think the key here is not so much “what altitude would be good for me”, because obviously something around 2500 meters is not going to affect your performance much. I think the key is “acclimatization”. You could ski perfectly effectively at those high ski runs at 3450 meters if you gave yourself a day or two to get acclimated.

The question then becomes not “Can your body take it?” but “Can your wallet take it?” :smiley: Can you afford to spend an extra couple of days acclimating in a ski chalet, loafing by the fire with ski bunnies, drinking hot chocolate, going for sleigh rides…You have to ask yourself, “Can I afford not to?”

Send me a postcard. :smiley:

oops, sorry, your 3450 meters is still only High, not Very High. I looked at it wrong. Are you disappointed?

Duck Duck Goose, excellent reply! Thanks!

And yes, I am disappointed that I wasn’t in the very high category. Now I feel like a wimp.:o

Your brilliant rationalization can only be outdone by my hopeless inability to find any flaws in it.

Where should I send that postcard? :smiley:

Duck Duck Goose’s response was based on good information but a person’s lack of oxygen is much more individual than the Princeton page would indicate.

Some primary factors in O2 deficiency are:
– altitude at which you live. People who live in Denver have blood that’s more efficient at transporting oxygen than those living at sea level.
– extent of anemia, which is more prevalent in women
– physical condition. Less body fat means lower oxygen consumption.

You can test your blood oxygen level with a pulse oximeter. The modern pulse oximeters shine light throught your fingernails to measure blood oxygen level. It measures the percentage of oxygen that your blood is carrying. Oxygen saturations below 90% won’t get you out of the emergency room of a hospital but I’ve shown O2 levels of 85% at 8,000’ flying over the Cascade Mountains here. That’s less than the roughly 10,000’ at which you were skiing.

Prolonged periods below 90% will leave you short of breath when exercising strenously; leave you feeling tired; and dull your mental faculties. I find in flying that simple math calculations become difficult when my sats drop below 90%. You don’t really start getting damaged physically until O2 saturation is below 70%.

Here is an excellent article that describes hypoxia:

Is that why they seem to be able to get me to spend so damn much money in that ski chalet at the top of the mountain? :smiley: