Colorado Att(Alt)itude

Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO, AANP Conference Speaker Selection Committee Chair, explains the Coloradan attitude, altitude and culture. The naturopathic physicians in Colorado are looking forward to hosting you in their home state in July 2013.

In preparation for the AANP Conference in Keystone in 2013, I am obligated to tell you a few things about Colorado.

Here, in Colorado, we often interchange two words: altitude and attitude.  Both seem to inform our worldview to equal measure.  I've been trying to get a grip on this perception of things for the 21 years my wife and I have lived here. 

It's the Altitude
First off, it is really all about altitude.  Denver is, literally, a mile-high city.  Halfway up the staircase that leads to the Capitol Building is an elevation marker: 5,280 feet above sea level. 

Altitude determines your temperature, your weather, and to some extent your politics.  Flatlanders living on the eastern plains do not vote the same as those Coloradans living up higher in Boulder, Frisco, Aspen, Vail or Telluride.

Air temperature drops with increasing altitude.  This is technically called lapse rate, a seldom employed meteorological term. You will not impress people here if you use the term—you'll inspire sideways glances. Under normal conditions the average lapse rate is -3.5°F/1,000 ft to -5.5 °F /1000 feet (depending on how dry the air is) of altitude gain. 

The 2013 AANP Conference will be held at Keystone Resort, elevation 9,280 feet.  To get there we get to drive over Loveland Pass, elevation 11,990 feet, and then down the hill to Keystone.  If it's 75°F in Denver, what will the temperature be on top of the pass and then down in Keystone?

Weather will always throw the equation off, but pretend it is normal. The temperature would easily drop from a comfortable 75° in Denver to 42° on top of the pass (11990 ft-5280 ft x3.5/1000 =-23.5) and a pleasant 58° at Keystone (5 x -3.5= -17.5).i   Or it could be snowing.  That's altitude. You get used to it.

Altitude of course also affects breathing.   People often say that there is less oxygen up here.  That's not correct.  It just feels like it. The percentage of oxygen in the air at two miles high (10,560 feet.) is pretty much the same as at sea level (21%).  The difference is the air pressure, which is about 30% lower. 

At sea level, there's about 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi) of atmospheric pressure pushing oxygen through the semi-permeable lung membranes into the blood.  At two miles high, the air pressure is only 10.1 psi, there is far less air pressure pushing oxygen across those membranes, making it more difficult for oxygen to enter our vascular systems.  The resultant hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, is noticeable even in normal physical activities, such as climbing stairs.

The lower air pressure also makes it easier for water vapor to move across membranes and out of the body.  Thus it is easier to become dehydrated at higher elevations.

It's also all about Attitude
Here in Colorado the cultural norm is casual; people rarely get dressed up.  Google some images of John Hickenlooper, our governor:  he's wearing a tie in fewer than half the pictures.  That's typical.

The story of Henry Brown is also a good example of our attitude toward formality. Brown is best known for building the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, considered Denver's most elegant place to stay since it first opened in 1892.


Henry Brown developed land, sold real estate and ran cattle just to the Southeast of where the State Capitol now stands (on land Brown donated to the state).  The story goes that Brown rode over to the Oxford Hotel for dinner, after a hard day working cattle and was refused service as he was still dressed as a cowboy, not suitable attire for a gentleman. He left in a huff and built the Brown Palace next door, a hotel of lasting elegance, as a way to get even.  The Brown Palace is known for its exquisite afternoon tea and its great tolerance for things related to cattle: the annual Western Stock Show's Champion Steer is led down a red carpet each year into the hotel atrium to share tea time with guests.

There is no event in our state so formal for which cowboy boots are considered inappropriate. It's an attitude thing.  High end labeled outdoor clothing is now almost equally acceptable.  Patagonia, Arcteryx , North Face or any local label is usually just fine.  If you're in a mountain town, it's expected.

It's not clear what John Denver was singing about in Rocky Mountain High, the altitude, the attitude or the ubiquitous marijuana.

Suffice it to say that our local ski hill is named Mary Jane and that Amendment 64 to legalize marijuana was approved by a vote of 54% to 46% a few weeks ago.  (In Colorado, when people talk about natural medicine, they are more likely referring to ‘medical marijuana' than to our profession.)

Perhaps it's because of this underlying pot culture, but we are a tolerant lot. Actually it goes back far further than John Denver et al.  Our state's culture is composite of our antecedents and we are a diverse collection, from fur trappers, gold miners, and ranchers, to geologists, hippies and ski bums. Our quirky and popular governor came here as a geologist, made his fortune brewing beer and then turned to politics. These odd people are our cultural heroes, and our values are a collage of their incongruent moral outlooks. They have left us with a live and let live attitude.  It's only about a hundred miles between the Naropa Institute in Boulder to Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs and yet somehow Colorado is usually big enough to live with this wide spectrum of perception. 

Whether it is the altitude, the attitude or just the culture, people in Colorado tend to be fit.  We have the lowest rate of obesity in the nation.  One gets used to it.  Watching the National Dog Show after Thanksgiving dinner last week, prompted discussion on how fat the dog handlers looked on TV. We are relatively unaccustomed to overweight people.  The tourists stand out on the ski slopes because of their girth.

I'm telling you these things because Colorado is an interesting place and all of us who practice here are looking forward to having you come visit next summer.  We are excited and looking forward to welcoming you to Keystone and sharing our state with you.  We hope you are as excited as we are.