Whole room oxygenation systems
Traveling up to the high country can be a real headache -- quite literally. Other side effects of altitude sickness can include nausea, dizziness, and impaired sleep.
Bill Sinclair knows all about the latter. He could never get a good night's rest when he went up to the mountains. But when Sinclair heard about a company that makes and installs technology to counter the effects of higher altitudes, his interest was piqued.
So much so, in fact, that Sinclair and his partner Kyle Bassett bought the company's assets this year from its founders -- Larry Kutt and Shaun Wallace, a former Olympic cyclist -- who were set to retire. Sinclair says, referring to himself and Bassett, "We both suffer from altitude issues -- and I was born in Denver."
During its history, Sinclair's newly acquired company -- Altitude Control Technology -- has installed its technology into 400 homes in places such as Crested Butte, Santa Fe, Big Sky, and Park City. The final assembly of the company's equipment is done at its facility in Edwards, Colorado, near Beaver Creek and Vail, where there are also customers.
Here's what a home installation consists of: a tube from the outdoors leads to an air separation machine, which is overseen by a controller unit measuring the amount of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and barometric pressure in the room, every six seconds. Accordingly, the air separation unit will add more oxygen to the residence, while also removing nitrogen, in order to mimic the desired altitude.
The results: while a home may be situated in Vail at 8,150 feet above sea level, Sinclair says "you could knock about 7,000 feet off your effective altitude" -- making sleeping in that bedroom similar to a night in much lower locales like Omaha or Phoenix.
Why not just hit an oxygen bar, if there's one in town? According to Sinclair, short bursts of oxygen just don't cut it for lasting benefits: "You'll get relief for a few minutes while you're sitting there, but to really change the oxygen content, the oxygen supply in your bloodstream, you need to be in [an oxygen-enriched] environment for longer." Furthermore, simply opening an oxygen tank and "spraying it into the room" willy-nilly leads to an inconsistent and "unsafe environment," he says.
Sinclair calls Altitude Control Technology (recently rechristened from Altitude Control Technologies) a "differentiator" in the marketplace, given that "we started [off selling our products to] the research world," where there is a "very low tolerance for error and mistakes," prior to the company entering the residential market around 2015. Sinclair adds, "We've had some of the most rigid institutions in the world use our products and rely on them, and so I think our ability to translate that -- from a safety and effectiveness standpoint -- [to the home market] is crucial."
Those early customers have included the College of William & Mary Altitude Research Center, the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the Federal Aviation Administration, the University of Colorado Altitude Research Center, and Nike. The Air Force has used the company's technology to actually simulate higher -- rather than lower -- altitudes, so pilots can recognize the effects of what diminished oxygen feels like, which can lead to grave errors in judgment. And a large, recent installation took place at Northern Arizona University, where 50 units were placed in an exercise room to simulate "either higher altitude or a lower altitude for both research and training of their athletes."
Indeed, home installs can also simulate higher altitudes, as well. Sinclair describes a Boulder couple who use their system prior to going "running and cycling in the mountains," so they're able to acclimate quicker to being in the hills.
And then there's the couple from Texas with a home in Crested Butte, who were close to selling their property because the wife couldn't tolerate the higher altitude and had stopped visiting. They opted not to sell after installing the technology in their house.
"That to me is one of the reasons why we are doing this," says Sinclair. "We've ultimately changed their lives for the better and let them enjoy this mountain home that they've owned for a long time and haven't been able to enjoy together for a long time."
Sinclair adds, "That really reinforces why we are here."
Challenges: According to Sinclair, it's finding the right people to become installers: "We could do many more installations per week or per month if we could find the bodies to do it."
Opportunities: Eventually finding ways to reduce the cost and complexity of the technology, so it becomes "a product nearly anyone can afford," says Sinclair. Presently, installs can range anywhere from $20,000 at the most simple residence to upwards of $300,000 for a six-bedroom home -- and more than one air separation unit is likely required for most projects.
Nevertheless, business continues to increase: "We're growing 30-plus percent per year," says Sinclair.
Needs: "Labor, again," cites Sinclair. "Being able to find good qualified people who like doing the work."