Let’s say you’ve invested millions in a choice piece of Park City real estate, only to discover that every visit to your dream home-away-from-home begins with a pounding headache coupled with nausea, dizziness, and dehydration lasting up to four days. Prone to the high-altitude hangover known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), you’re the mountain-town equivalent of someone who’s just bought a yacht, only to discover you have a propensity for sea sickness. So what to do? Give your high-altitude retreat an atmospheric makeover.
Larry Kutt is founder and CEO of Altitude Control Technologies, a Denver, Colorado–based business that specializes in “environmental simulation.” Using NASA-like technology, ACT modifies entire rooms so that, at the push of a button, the atmosphere changes from sea-level to Everest-like conditions or vice versa. These rooms are commonplace at places like the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School where researchers study how altitude impacts health. This same technology is now available to sea-level denizens looking to forestall the onset of AMS—as well as simply get a good night’s sleep—when staying in their mountain-town vacation homes.
“We recently worked on a home in the mountains above Vail that had an art museum and a planetarium with a huge telescope. It was the couple’s dream home. And then the wife moves in and gets sick,” explains Kutt, who says his firm has oxygenated around a dozen rooms in high-altitude high-end homes from Park City and Big Sky to Aspen and Vail. “We did one bedroom and they loved it so much, they asked us to do another for their in-laws and bedrooms for their children. If you spend eight or nine million dollars on a house, you don’t want to come home to headaches and nausea.”
But why oxygenate just the bedrooms? “Our board of medical advisors thinks that sleeping in an oxygen-enriched environment is what it takes to avoid altitude sickness,” explains Kutt.
One of those advisors is Dr. Peter Hackett, founder and executive director of the Institute for Altitude Medicine at Telluride Medical Center. An emergency physician and Everest alpinist, Hackett is regarded as one of the world’s foremost authorities on AMS.
“It’s tremendous,” says Hackett, who prescribes sleeping with oxygen—albeit typically via a canula from a rented cylinder or portable O2 generator—as the gold standard therapy for AMS prevention and treatment. “Your body thinks it’s back at sea level, and you will not get mountain sickness. If you have symptoms and you sleep in an oxygenated room, you will be cured. The main problem people have at high altitude, whether or not they have AMS, is trouble sleeping. An oxygenated room can help with that quite a bit.”
Hackett notes that commercial enterprises—from mountaintop telescope research facilities and high-altitude mining operations in places like the Andes—have been using oxygenated bedrooms in employee housing for years, but as far as he knows, ACT was the first to apply this technology to the dream home.
“When Larry approached me about this, it made perfect sense,” adds Hackett.
Oxygenation offers an elegant solution to a common problem, yet it’s not uncomplicated. An air separator (a high-tech machine that strips oxygen and nitrogen from the air) is installed in the mechanical room of the home and is plumbed to dedicated pipes that send oxygen and nitrogen into bedrooms equipped with weather-sealed doors and windows. Special sensors monitor the room’s levels of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, while a computerized controller continuously adjusts the mix of gases, which change as barometric pressure rises and falls and as people (who exhale CO2) enter and exit to keep the danger of combustion in check.
“When we’re done with a room, there is nothing to see or hear,” says Kutt. “People spend a lot of money on mountain homes, and they spend a lot of money on décor and designers. Appearance is important. Our systems are completely silent and invisible and compromise neither the appearance nor the experience of a property.”
ACT’s atmospheric control systems start at $20,000 for the average 200- to 300-square-foot bedroom. The systems are available both for new construction and existing homes.
Kutt’s residential clientele is far from limited to owners of mountain-town homes, however. One of his more memorable customers was His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, ruler of Dubai, and the 50th wealthiest person on earth. ACT first oxygenated a bedroom at the Sheikh’s Newmarket estate, then more bedrooms in his Dubai palace, and then all of Godolphin, the UAE stables where the Sheikh quarters $400 million worth of thoroughbreds.
“Talk about a challenging environment,” admits Kutt. “You have indoor air-quality issues, you have outdoor air-quality issues, and you have dust storms and sand storms. If we can deal with horses, we can deal with humans.”
Even in the rarefied air of Park City.