DENVER (AP) - Colorado's high-country altitudes are hard on tourists' hearts, killing a disproportionate number of visitors in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s with undetected cardiac conditions, several coroners say.
"People come here from low altitudes with undiagnosed heart problems - descending coronary arteries or valve problems. The altitude causes more stress on the heart," said Joanne Richardson, coroner for Summit County, home to Keystone, Breckenridge and Copper Mountain ski resorts.
Since Friday, three skiers have died on Colorado slopes. Heart failure claimed a 51-year-old Illinois man and a 77-year-old Leadville man. Monday, a 22-year-old East Coast man collapsed on Copper Mountain, but cause of death is still unknown.
In Gunnison County, home of 12,000-foot-high Mount Crested Butte, almost half the 23 deaths coroner Frank Vader investigated last year were tourists. Thirteen involved the heart and probably 10 of those were altitude-related, he said.
Vader said in almost all cases there was some pre-existing heart problem, usually undetected.
In Summit County in the past 10 years, 21 people under 40 have died of acute heart failure, said Richardson, a paramedic for 20 years before she became coroner. Last year, a 21-year-old and a 30-year-old from out of state died of heart-related conditions.
Eagle County, home of Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts, has had four heart attack deaths since January, three of them out-of-staters, said coroner Kara Bettis. The previous two years, 13 people from out of state had fatal heart attacks while visiting Eagle County.
"These are people who didn't know they had a heart condition - skiing, hiking, getting to the top of a trail and dying of a heart attack," said Bettis.
In Chaffee County, which boasts the 14,000-foot Collegiate Peaks, coroner Randal Amettis said altitude-related deaths range from two to 10 annually.