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Mountain News: The challenge of thin air for Summit visitors


BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — It's always been a problem, at some level. People from sea level arrive at Summit County, which is mostly above 2,700 metres , though some of its ski resorts top out above 3,800 metres.

Then somebody starts to struggle. It doesn't always turn out badly, but often it does. Of the 23 people who died in Summit County last year of heart complications, reports the Summit Daily News, citing coroner records, 19 were people who had come from lower elevations.

The vast majority of the victims were people in their 50s or older. Typically, according to the coroner's reports, they suffered heart attacks within a day or two of arriving.

"It probably is the case that for anyone coming from low altitude with some underlying degree of heart problems, the stress of the new hypoxia is considerably higher," said Dr. Erik Swensen, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington.

"It's a big step up for people adapted to lower altitude, and it might be enough of a cardiac stress to trigger a heart attack."

The strain on the body is greater at high elevations because the air pressure is lower. That reduces the effective oxygen level, the Daily News explained.

At sea level, the effective oxygen concentration is around 20 per cent. At 2,700 metres, the oxygen concentration drops to 14 per cent. At the top of ski mountains, the oxygen concentrate drops to only one per cent.

The body responds to these lower oxygen levels by breathing more, pumping faster, and producing adrenaline — which stresses the heart.

Still, the precise link isn't firmly established, said Dr. Warren Johnson, a local cardiologist.

Visitors to higher elevations are advised to stagger their upward journey, staying in Denver, for example, which is at about 1,500 metres, before continuing higher. Some did so, but suffered heart attacks anyway. It can take weeks to adjust to higher elevations.

Do you remember the time Ivanka sneaked out...

ASPEN, Colo. — Like a lot of other one per-centers from Manhattan, the Trump class continues its love affair with Aspen.

Minus the family patriarch, the Trump clan flew to Colorado on Saturday for some R&R. The plans, revealed in advance, were for them to fly into Eagle County Regional Airport, which is 55 kilometres west of Vail, then drive the roughly 90 minutes to Aspen. The Eagle County airport can accommodate Trump's 757, but the plane's wingspan of 28 metres is too wide for the airport at Aspen.

The two daily newspapers in Aspen reported that the entourage was expected to include Donald Trump's three children — Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka — and Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner, and their children. One of them, a grandson of the president, suffered a broken leg while skiing. The president went golfing in Florida, as he had done for several previous weekends.

The Aspen Times reported that a hastily called protest was held in a park near downtown Aspen on Sunday. "I'm mad about everything," declared the sign of one protestor. "The EPA, fracking, education, everything," explained local resident Mark Hesselschwerdt.

"Hey Jared. Putin called. He wants you in Sochi. Not Aspen," said another sign.

On Facebook, the reaction was mixed. "Such hypocrites in Aspen. Democrats act like they welcome all immigrants, and people of every race and religion to our valley (so long as those immigrants don't move to Aspen, but stay down valley) but they can't even welcome the children of the president of the United States to our town?!?" wrote one woman, a transplant from Houston.

But another local lodged this insult: "Trump skis in jeans," he said.

The Trump family has vacationed in Aspen frequently through the years. Some years they have drawn more attention than others. One local cop told the Aspen Daily News confidentially that police were summoned once when Ivanka, then a teenager, disappeared. She was later found in another hotel room with a male teen.

President Trump made the news in 1989, when he was still married to Ivana Trump (Ivanka's mother) but was having an affair with Marla Maples, whom he later married. The two women got into a shouting match at a restaurant on Aspen Mountain.

Mountain towns saving buildings from the past

BANFF, Alta. — The old icebox at the railroad depot in Banff has been spared the bulldozer. It's 106 years old, and Canadian Pacific Railway would have levelled it if Banff town officials had not fought back.

This icebox is from a time when ice was loaded onto freight trains to refrigerate cargo. Just how the building will be refashioned isn't clear, but Banff officials are very protective about the community's historical manifestations.

In Park City, Utah, it's much the same story. The California-Comstock Mine is located on the slopes of what is now Park City Mountain Resort. Mining infrastructure was in deplorable shape, said Sally Elliott, from a group called Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History. The building was stabilized last summer. The heavy snow of this winter might have left the building "close to flat," she told The Park Record.

In Colorado, new uses for the very old Tabor Opera House are being sorted out in two-mile-high Leadville. Renovations costing US$600,000 have been completed. The three-storey building was completed in 1876, just as Leadville was booming with newfound wealth in the form of silver ore. Prospectors looking for more found quite a lot when they made their way over the Sawatch Range to a settlement that was first called Ute City. It was later renamed Aspen.

Shipping containers promoted for housing

CANMORE, Alta. — Shipping containers, such as are used to transport trinkets from China to retail stores in North America, are getting a close look in the Banff-Canmore area for use as cheap housing.

Affordability there, as in all resort mountain areas, is a major challenge. The shipping containers are steel cubes of 2.4 by 12 metres that can be refurbished in ways that make them nice, if not necessarily large, housing. The price for the finished product is CDN$150 to $200 per square foot, a developer told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Chuck Lemieux, owner and president of Blocks Container Structures, said the units can be stacked together rapidly, producing housing in months, not years.

"This thing, when it's done, it will be better insulated (spray foam) and stronger than any house, and it'll be done in six months, start to finish," he said.

Can mud-season march draw much of a crowd?

PARK CITY, Utah — On Earth Day, protestors are expected to gather for a local iteration of the National March for Science. Organizers said they expect anywhere from 500 people to 9,000 people.

The latter is about the size of the crowd in January, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. president. That was during the Sundance Film Festival, when the town was packed. Earth Day arrives when most people seem to be camping at the ocean, propped up at beach resorts, or otherwise gone.

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