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Here’s how to stay safe and healthy during spring break at height in Steamboat Springs

Fluctuating snow conditions due to fluctuating daytime temperatures and high visitor traffic during spring break keep ski patrols and local medical clinics constantly on their toes.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

All patient rooms were full by 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, March 14 at UCHealth Urgent Care in Steamboat Springs, at a time when staff typically stop for a meal or a short break.

On Wednesday, March 15, late afternoon, UCHealth Urgent Care Certified Physician Assistant Jenn Cohen did not have time for breakfast or lunch due to spring break traffic not only on downtown streets but also inside the halls of UCHealth you can see.

“You don’t get breaks with that many people,” Cohen said.

Although she worked in emergency care for a year, Cohen has 10 years of experience in the Emergency Department in the Front Range and spent seven years ski patrolling at Copper Mountain. She said emergency services have been constantly busy this spring break season with primarily orthopedic injuries and upper respiratory illnesses.

The doctor’s assistant estimated the normal ratio of tourists to residents coming into emergency care at 50-50, but at this time of year she estimates a traveler-to-locals ratio of 75-25.

Since recently returning from vacation of her own, she has advised wearing a mask when traveling indoors and washing your hands frequently to prevent the spread of infection. She advises people riding the ski resort’s gondola to cover their faces and open all windows.

“COVID and flu are still here and prominent, and we’re seeing a lot of positive strep throat,” Cohen said.

Jenn Cohen, board-certified physician assistant, from left, Halea Nudy, radiology technologist, and Michael Fitzgerald, emergency technician at UCHealth Urgent Care in Steamboat Springs, assisted in the care of nearly 50 patients on Wednesday, March 15.
UCHealth/Photo courtesy

Maureen Connolly, emergency room nurse manager at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, said, “We’re definitely seeing an increase in patient traffic this March compared to last year.”

At Steamboat Medical Group, emergency care is busy throughout the day even after the practice added its peak hours to stay open two hours later until 7 p.m. on weekdays, said Adam Pople, practice administrator.

None of the medics reported patients coming to clinics just for symptoms related to altitude, but the experts said they see trends in holidaymakers wanting to get the most out of their ski trip and overloading their bodies at altitude.

“Even at our altitude, people’s bodies are under more stress,” Cohen said. “When people are on vacation, they often don’t take care of their bodies, travel, don’t sleep in the same bed, don’t exercise, don’t rest. The exercise here is more difficult when they are at sea level. Their bodies are under more stress, which can potentially make them more vulnerable to things like illness.”

Experts say that dehydration is often a problem when training in the mountains, so drinking plenty of water and perhaps electrolyte drinks is recommended.

“The effects of alcohol or marijuana at altitude are magnified. The fact that you’re more dehydrated to start with, and other stressors are having an effect on your body,” Cohen said.

The doctor’s assistant recommends that visitors coming from lower altitudes take a rest day between flying and skiing to acclimatize the body a little better or to take the first day of skiing a little more calmly.

UCHealth Urgent Care staff report that vacation patients often say they are trying too hard.

“They try a little harder because they’re short on time and they’re paying to ski,” Cohen said. “Give your body some grace and plenty of time to recover.”

During the first run after lunch, guests may be at greater risk of orthopedic injuries because “they have full tummies, may have been drinking, and are tired from the morning,” Cohen said.

“Maybe relax in the afternoon and do a warm-up lap before you hit black moguls,” Cohen advised.

“It’s important to remember to keep the pace, as altitude plays a role in everything, including your drinking, water consumption and activity tolerance,” noted Steamboat Medical Group’s Pople. “People get tired and they push that one last run because they want to see the whole day from the first chair to the last. When you’re tired, you’re more prone to injury.”

Casey Homuth, director of nursing at UCHealth Urgent Care, said the facility was treating an average of 25 patients per day in early March 2022, with 30 patients on its busiest day. So far this March, the facility has been treating an average of more than 40 patients per day, with 53 patients being the busiest day.

“Compared to last year, which was our first winter of service to the community, we have served significantly more patients, both those based in Northwest Colorado and those visiting Steamboat Springs,” Homuth said. “Just like on the mountain, holiday weekends tend to be busier, but each weekend tends to bring more visitors to the city, which tends to increase the number of people using our services.”


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