Most everyone who comes from sea level to the Rocky Mountains for a winter vacation knows they often experience a shortness of breath when they arrive at their destination. What many don't know is there's a much more dangerous condition lurking: altitude sickness.

Surprisingly, the level of physical conditioning has little to do with whether someone gets the headaches, nausea, and vertigo associated with altitude sickness, according to Mogul Medical Urgent Care at Taos Ski Valley. The decrease in oxygen at 8,000 feet and above affects anyone who comes from a lower elevation, initially with a hangover-like feeling but progressing further rapidly.

The majority of ski and snowboard resorts in the Rocky Mountains start at more than 8,000 feet, some much higher. The elevation at the base of Monarch, Wolf Creek, Arapahoe Basin, and Loveland Basin in Colorado all exceed 10,000 feet. The base elevations of all areas in New Mexico are above 8,000, as are all but a handful in the Rocky Mountain-Intermountain regions.

So anyone visiting those resorts should follow some basic precautions to avoid having to head back down into the valley in order to regain their health:

Slow down the ascent to altitude. Spend a night at a lower elevation before venturing higher. Stop early on the first day of skiing or riding, especially if experiencing fatigue or prolonged breathlessness.

Increase carbohydrate intake, such as pasta, breads, pancakes and rice, and reduce fat intake.

Drink plenty of water but avoid alcohol, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills on the first two days at altitude.

Symptoms become severe with wet cough, persistent shortness of breath, disorientation and dizziness, a loss of appetite and blue color in lips or fingernail. People experiencing any degree of these symptoms should seek medical care at the resort, according to Mogul Medical.

More information.