Kristin Emery is a meteorologist at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, an O-R columnist, and writer for Total Health magazine and other publications. Kristin is a Washington native and a graduate of Washington High School and West Virginia University.

No, I’m not talking about marijuana, although it is legal in Colorado, and it’s everywhere. I mean everywhere. As soon as you leave the airport, you start seeing billboards and signs advertising dispensaries and all sorts of CBD and marijuana products and vendors. I had no interest in any of that, and I don’t understand why folks in Colorado even need that when they live so high above sea level. That high altitude left me feeling loopy during my entire trip.

I flew to Denver last week for a last-minute ski trip, and the snow, skiing and scenery were all amazing. I had traveled to Colorado several times before for ski trips and knew what I was in for as far as the high-altitude adjustment. It’s never enjoyable for me, but the skiing makes it totally worthwhile.

Denver is aptly called the Mile High City because it sits at 5,280 feet above sea level. Compare that to Pittsburgh’s highest point of 1,300 feet on Mount Washington or the roughly 700 feet elevation along our region’s rivers and your body winds up doing quite a bit of adjusting. They say the air is “thinner” at higher altitudes and that your body cannot get as much oxygen. If you’ve never experienced this, it means you can’t catch your breath as easily, are prone to getting headaches and getting dehydrated and often have difficulty sleeping. Great – sounds like a lovely vacation! High- altitude sickness most often occurs at elevations above 8,000 feet, so the fact that I was staying at a resort that’s 9,173 feet above sea level and taking the gondola to peaks around 11,000 feet made me vulnerable.

I started noticing my breathing was heavier as soon as I started unloading my skis from the rental car. I didn’t do myself any favors by heading from the airport straight to the slopes for an afternoon of skiing. It sounded like a great idea and actually was really fun, but I found myself already breathing more heavily while trying to put on my ski boots, unload my skis and walk across the parking lot and up the stairs to the lift ticket window. It kind of feels like you’re walking through a bowl of Jell-O.

The next symptom I noticed was the ever-so-slight tinge of a headache. I remember having a constant headache because of the altitude on my first ski trip to Colorado, so I started drinking as much water as I could to stay hydrated. I kept drinking glass after glass of water each day, which helped. The down side is that I was constantly looking for a restroom. Thankfully, I didn’t experience as much insomnia as on previous trips so I did have a very relaxing and restful stay.

I guess if you really get desperate, you can just visit one of those dispensaries advertised on the billboards.

Kristin Emery can be reached at

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