The organizers of this year’s winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea claim that the 2,300 foot altitude is “the best altitude for human biorhythm.” But is that “Happy 700” meter elevation really ideal for pulling off incredible physical feats? And is there even an altitude that’s ideal for athletic performance?
This year’s Olympic Village sits at roughly the same elevation as Eagle Mountain in Minnesota or Cheaha Mountain in Alabama—places you might not be familiar with, but sit just slightly above 2,000 feet in elevation. That’s hardly Denali. But that altitude can still have a surprisingly big impact on athletes competing in different sports.
Skating Through Thick and Thin Air
Speed skaters, for example, train at different elevations not only to get used to different oxygen levels, but different degrees of air resistance. A thinner atmosphere at a higher altitude means there are fewer molecules for racers to push against as they go for the gold. But in Pyeongchang, athletes who trained in, say, Salt Lake City, Utah will suddenly race at half the elevation they train at. That means they’ll have to work a little harder to push through the heavier air.
Skiers Get Elevated
Cross-country and alpine skiers, however, might find that they’re well-trained for endurance on Pyeongchang’s slopes. While the Jeongseon Alpine Center sits at 4,500 feet, an altitude that can cause trouble for those used to lower elevations, that’s still far under the elevation of many popular American slopes like Jackson Hole, Breckenridge, and Aspen. The biggest problem that this year’s Olympic skiers have faced isn’t low oxygen levels, but frozen skis and high winds.
The Perfect Elevation for Longevity?
As for Pyeongchang’s claims that 700 meters is ideal for everything from human longevity to agricultural production, the jury is still out. There’s no hard evidence that 2,300 feet is dramatically different from 1,300 or 3,300 foot elevations, especially when you consider athletes who have trained at a variety of altitudes and have had several days to acclimate.
That said, oxygen can have a big impact on performance and recovery at any altitude. Perhaps there’s something to the “Happy 700”—and if so, that’s great news for outdoor enthusiasts throughout the Rocky Mountain West. Either way, it can’t hurt to pack a can or two of Boost Oxygen for your next adventure, whether you’re pushing through that heavy low-elevation atmosphere or feeling inspired by Shaun White’s insane big air snowboarding moves.