Ski Season is Just Around the Corner, Educate Yourself about HAPE

Grant Weaver | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
Ski mountaineering/backpacking
Skiers climbing up in the back-country must be aware of the dangers of HAPE.
Image: Flo Maderebner/

When most people fantasize about a big ski trip, the only health aspect they know is altitude sickness.  Often times, consuming a sufficient amount of water and overall understanding and listening to your body can be fine and most people do not run into an issue.  There is more to be informed about, including HAPE.

What is HAPE? It stands for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema and it is something anyone who is planning any high-altitude physical activity adventure or trip should be aware of.  It is a buildup of fluid in the lungs that can turn deadly.  The main reason being—it can happen to anyone…even the healthiest extreme athletes.  This is why HAPE is the number one killer at high altitude.  The lack of adequate medical care at the time of exposure is another reason for the alarming fatality rate.

Any outdoor, high altitude physical activity has an inherent risk of HAPE.
Image: Pixabay/

HAPE can generally develop within the first two to four days at altitude above 8,000 feet.  What should you look for?  Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, weakness or chest congestion/tightness.  Signs to keep an eye out for are wheezing, blue skin color, or rapid breathing.  The easiest treatments if someone in your group seems to be showing these signs is rest and a descent of about 2,000 to 3,000 ft.

This is most definitely an aspect of high altitude adventure those who plan to be doing longer backpacking/skinning or other mountaineering trips should be aware of.  Most modest skiers who will be staying within resort boundaries and generally not overworking themselves, people who plan to be above the threshold altitude are more at risk.  No matter what, this is a sickness that can be deadly almost in front of your eyes and the more aware high altitude adventurers of all sorts are, the better.

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