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Getting High to Get Fit

By May 25, 2016May 30th, 2016No Comments

Guest blogger, Rachael Oakes-Ash from gets high in an altitude tent at home with surprising results.


Skiers and snowboarders wanting to improve their performance can now set up altitude tents in their own homes.


I went skiing in Colorado last year and for three weeks before hitting the four thousand metre ski peaks I slept in this plastic bubble.

Snow Fitness Guest Blog Getting High Get Fit 1



Each night I would climb in through the zip on the side and switch on a portable altitude unit that would ensure the oxygen levels within this tent would simulate the same oxygen levels at 2000 metres or higher. Just to make sure I would check the oxygen measurements on this.

Snow Fitness Guest Blog Getting High Get Fit 1

21{32cb68c648cd17eb1fc2194cc261b71d8169ee0d1453c4dfc9b45d0e4a041f6f} oxygen is what we experience at sea level and I was working up to 13{32cb68c648cd17eb1fc2194cc261b71d8169ee0d1453c4dfc9b45d0e4a041f6f} which is 3500 metres. I could, if I had trained myself over weeks to do it, set the oxygen levels to mimic 5000 metres but that would have just been insane and taken six weeks or more, which I didn’t have. What I did have was nine hours a night of deprived oxygen to help acclimatise my red blood cells to altitude.


The trouble with altitude sickness is there is rarely any rhyme or reason as to who gets it, when they get it or why. You can be the fittest person on the planet and still be floored by intense headaches, vertigo, nausea and more and you can be the least fittest person on the planet and practically run to Everest Base Camp without so much as a sneeze. Just because you get altitude sickness on one trip to altitude doesn’t mean you’re going to get it on the next one either.


I have been floored in Aspen with vertigo and been attached to a saline drip and an oxygen tank as a result. I didn’t do too well in Portillo in Chile where we slept at 2600 metres. Pounding headaches plagued me daily.


We all know that time spent at altitude is the best way to acclimatize. Turns out that nine hours in an altitude tent each night would help do just that. If it’s good enough for The Australian Institute of Sport who have an ‘altitude house’ for athletes to sleep in then it’s good enough for me.


The bed tent itself was easy to erect and it comes in single, double, queen and king sizes. The frame is inflatable with a hand held pump and the plastic wraps over the mattress to be tucked away tight. The tent connects to a portable compressor which you set to whichever oxygen level you need. You can watch TV, read a book, play on your iPad and sleep but nine hours is the recommended time to spend in the tent at a time.


Though be warned you must be vigilant with monitoring your oxygen levels. I over estimated the oxygen level one night and woke the next day with altitude sickness. I had a splitting headache and nausea which I first put down to a migraine but when I got to the gym and realised if I didn’t get horizontal then and there I would pass out I knew I was in trouble.

I crawled to my car and passed out on my back seat for two hours straight. Turned out I had slept at 3500 metres on my third night, ouch.


Combine this with a training program from Snow Fitness and you will be giving yourself your best shot at ensuring an injury free and enjoyable time on high altitude slopes during a northern winter holiday.


The results


Once I hit Colorado I felt a marked improvement at high altitude levels and was able to ski for longer without puffing out and I was able to keep up with the hard core skiers in my cat skiing crew when I got to Aspen in my second week.

While I had a mild headache on the first day I arrived at altitude (I started my trip in Telluride) it was far from the blinding headaches I had experienced at this level in the past, and I was sleeping at the highest I ever had – 2895 metres in Mountain Village.


I slept through every night throughout my three weeks while my travel companion who didn’t do the same altitude sleeping and the training I did spent her first few nights at Mountain Village consistently waking up throughout the night due to the altitude.


For someone like me who traditionally spends her first week struggling to acclimatise this was a major winner. When you have limited time on the ground for skiing holidays you don’t want to waste half of it feeling less than stellar.


As my HSC history teacher used to say “prior preparation prevents piss poor performance”. It would appear I have finally listened.


Need to know


Altitude Training Systems rent out the altitude tents for around $600 per month or you can purchase one outright for a king size bed like in for $5768.


Want to know more about the research behind altitude training? Check out this link.


An edited version of this blog first appeared on