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Take a breath of fresh air

Charlie OwenVail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyHaving trouble adjusting to higher altitude? An Evergreen company Better Than Air offers oxygen in a can to help alleviate the symptoms that accompany altitude sickness.
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First came bottled water. Some people thought the idea would never take.They were wrong. Now theres canned air.Better Than Air is an Evergreen-based company started by Larry Graziani that manufactures and distributes hand-held, pressurized cans of oxygen for use as an oxygen supplement. Grazianis idea was to combat the fatigue and nausea of altitude sickness that struck him during his trips to Colorado from Chicago.The true reason (for altitude sickness) is lack of oxygen, theres no other reason, Graziani said. He said there is only two ways to deal with the problem go back to sea level or supplement your body with oxygen.After extensive research into combating altitude sickness with oxygen, Graziani found that small, portable cans were the best way for people to use the product conveniently and effectively. In 2001 he founded Better Than Air, but the business really didnt begin to take off until 2003.The cans come in seven different models. There is a very small (about the size of a cell-phone) version that allows you to slip it into your pocket and use it whenever the need strikes. A larger sized cylinder comes with a plastic mask-like apparatus for a more concentrated burst of oxygen. There is even a container of oxygen marketed to help recover from hangovers. The label on Hang Over Air touts 170-proof oxygen (its a joke) and is said to aid in alcohol over-consumption recovery.Part of getting a hangover is lack of oxygen to metabolize the alcohol, Graziani said. And while his product wont totally get rid of a hangover, it will help alleviate it, he said.Graziani is aware that most of his customers are from mountain regions such as Colorado and Wyoming but he also said that it will help athletes who do sports at low altitudes, too.Flatlanders dont realize they have it (altitude sickness) because they have headaches and nausea and they think its just travel sickness, said Graziani, who encourages retailers to put his products in a visually prominent place so that people will realize that they have options when it comes to staying healthy in the mountains.

All this sounds great, but considering that the pocket-sized Better Than Air products start at $60 a pop, is it really worth it?True, their website is plastered with praise from people who have used the product and love it, but I had to know for myself, so I took a small can of O2 go! up Centennial lift in Beaver Creek and prepared to snowboard until I puked.I never vomited, even after four back-to-back runs, which is amazing considering it was my first day riding this season. But I did get winded, and quickly at that. So I huffed a big pull from the tiny canister of air to see if it would keep me from passing out.I gave myself time to feel the effects of fresh oxygen pulsing through my cold blood, and once I reached the top of the lift ride I actually did feel a little bit energized enough to take another run down the slope and call it a day, anyway.Next it was up to Wildridge in Avon for a high altitude jog on the icy streets. If youve ever been to Wildridge then you know nothing up there is level. So I ran up the freshly paved concrete, then down, and back up again, until the below-freezing air felt like asbestos in my lungs. It was after my run and during my next near-fainting phase that I inhaled as much of the canned oxygen as possible, exceeding the cans recommendation of 5-10 inhalations per session. Once my lungs unthawed, and the oxygen started to absorb into my blood stream, I immediately felt less tired and more alert. I dont think that it saved my life, but it kept me from going back to bed.When I got to the office and finally began my work day, I was fine, but as time passed I caught myself yawning more frequently. This had to stop, since I still had hours to go before sleep was even an option. So, periodically I would sneak a couple of O2 puffs. My hope was to achieve that euphoric state that comes when your airplane starts to nosedive and you have to rely on those yellow plastic-cup life support masks. While I never got high from the little canister of oxygen, I did feel a welcome sense of alertness and renewed energy after inhaling it.

I felt that I missed much of the potency of the Better Than Air products. The simple reason is that I have been acclimated to Vails altitude for the better part of five years now. Those that will benefit most from it will be the people who come from sea level or below and cant adapt quick enough to the affects of our thinner air.It could also be used as a performance enhancer during sports such as running, backpacking, snowboarding and snowshoeing, but the benefits would probably be minimal, if noticed at all, unless youre a flatlander, of course. Arts & Entertainment writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.


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