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InstCon2017[2018] Prep: Calling all flatlanders

Update for InstructureCon 2019:  InstructureCon 2019 will be held in Long Beach, California, which sits at an altitude of a whopping 52 feet. As such, my advance planning would mainly consist of remembering to pack sunscreen and sunglasses, as well as nasal spray and Vaseline (remember I'm from a very humid place). Smiley WinkJuly 9-11, 2019: save the date!

Update for InstructureCon 2018: InstructureCon 2018 will be held in Keystone, Colorado again this year. I'd still recommend taking the steps listed here, and would add that, based on my conversations with people at InstructureCon last year, anyone (not just flatlanders like me) not accustomed to spending time at high altitudes should consider some advance planning for the venue.

tl;dr: I had one of the best experiences of my life at InstructureCon 2016. Since I live year-round in a humid climate that's 12 feet above sea level, Keystone presents a few extra challenges for folks like me. If you already live in elevation and/or are already super fit, you need read no further. For the rest of us, I've jotted down what I did to prepare last year, and what additional steps I'm going to take for this year's shindig, so that nothing stands between me and InstCon fun.

Prepare for the terrain and climate

The elevation at Keystone ranges from around 9,000 feet at the Conference Center to over 12,000 feet at the summit. Altitude sickness is real, and it's serious; the only truly effective way to combat it once it advances past the mild stage is to descend to a lower elevation--in other words, you'd have to leave Keystone. Nobody wants to do this, so here are some preventative measures for your consideration:

Diamox (acetazolamide)

Consult your physician before considering this! My doctor prescribed 20 Diamox pills, and these were of tremendous help (I have taken Diamox on numerous prior trips to the Rockies and other mountainous regions). For InstructureCon 2016, I started taking them a day ahead of my trip to...

Acclimate in Denver

I booked two extra days ahead of the trip to acclimate in Denver, famously known as the Mile-High City. That was a fun way station, but this year, I might book a longer Denver stay. (If you're going to do that too, and want to meet up, let me know!)

Drink water

This is good advice for travel in general, but is especially relevant for Keystone due to its elevation and its dryness. Drink lots of water before you leave, during your flight(s), and throughout your stay at Keystone.

Pack for sun

The sun is stronger up there than it is down here, even for this Floridian. Bring hats and sunblock.

Bring duct tape

Why? Everyone knows duct tape is good for everything--I always travel with a roll of duct tape, and have used it for everything from sealing off bottles and jars to covering over annoying blinking lights in hotel rooms--but duct tape is particularly awesome for blisters. You'll be doing a lot of walking in Keystone, so be vigilant.

Bring Excedrin

I didn't need it, but if you get any hint of altitude sickness, you'll be glad to have it.

Bring super-comfortable shoes

I brought a pair of rugged shoes with fuzzy wool inserts--and I needed those inserts for Hack Night, because it ends at 11 pm, and it was coooold and rather wet. Don't bring any shoes with a high heel. They will positively be an encumbrance.

Abstain from alcohol

This is not required, but go easy, for sure. Alcohol and altitude don't mix.

Next steps:

Hill training

The three flights leading from the lake/Adventure Center to the tunnel across to the Convention Center were my personal stumbling block, one that I overcame numerous times each day. I challenged myself to be less out of breath each time, but I admit to having had mixed results (and I only discovered the elevator on the last day of the conference Smiley Happy). This year, I'm going to decimate those steps! How? I asked a trainer, and she suggested a stair workout using the bleachers by the outdoor pool, alternating between the small steps on the sides and the bigger steps in the middle. Remember that flatlanders training for hills need to consider the muscles used when going down as well as those needed to ascend.


If you're from a humid climate, your nasal passages will be screaming at you by Day 2. Bring a tube of Vaseline for dried nasal passages. Also bring nasal saline spray in the event the Vaseline isn't enough.


Where I live the temperature rarely drops into the 40s, but you can expect to experience 40 degree or colder weather every night at Keystone. So bring lightweight gloves and layers of clothing.

Rain and lightning

July is monsoon season in Colorado. You can expect rain and lightning every afternoon. Indeed, the extent of the lightning was surprising even to someone who comes from the lightning capital of America. Rain is not fun for people who have to wear glasses. So I will bring an easy-to-pack floppy plastic hat.

What else to pack

In addition to the comfortable shoes and rain hat, don't pack anything dressy; you won't need it. Stay on top of the discussions in the InstructureCon 2017 space to learn more about event themes, and consider packing an extra outfit that corresponds to them; it'll be more fun that way. Also, bring as many Canvas T-shirts as you own, and hope for more. (You'll get more.) Don't forget those layers. Hoodies are the gold standard of layers.


Yes, the air is thinner at higher altitudes, and sea level dwellers will probably feel it. If oxygen bars are available, I'll use them. If not, I'll buy a can of oxygen at River Run.


Along with hydration, electrolytes are instrumental in combating oxygen sickness. During InstCon 2016 kindly gifted me a packet of a powdered drink called Acli-Mate. On the Thursday of the conference I mixed it into 32 ounces of water and drank it over the course of the morning. Since I wasn't experiencing any altitude sickness anyway, I can't speak to its efficacy, but it tasted good. So maybe Ira can weigh in here on whether it helped him last year.

...and last but not least: Social

Arguably, networking is the most enjoyable part of an InstructureCon. I like to study faces in advance, and I plan to study the profile pictures in the Community, so I'll put this out here right now: If you're using one of the generic pandas as your avatar, help a fellow Community geek out and choose an avatar that resembles your actual face!  Smiley Happy

I hope to see you there! What additional tips can you offer?

31 Replies
Surveyor II

I'm another sea-level dweller and this will be my 5th InstructureCon.  Here's my tl;dr:

  • I've taken the acetazolamide every year.  But read up on the side effects.  One is that all carbonated beverages taste flat.  There are others.  The last couple of years, I took them just for the first couple of days.
  • Saline nose spray is critical, especially when you wake up at 3am and your nose is dried shut.  (Gross, but true.)
  • De-humidifier in the room at night...would not do this trip without it.  Been lucky that our condos have had one but it would be worth going to Walgreen's and spending $30.
  • There's water everywhere at the conference and you won't need to be told; you'll be thirsty.
  • Specific to this property...bring your walkin' shoes.
  • Check out as you're packing.  All the rain we got last year was unusual, we're told.  But if we get it again, you'll get very wet on the long walks between events, so pack appropriately.
  • If you're reading this, it means you're in the Community and maybe even post Feature Ideas.  So walk around the Partner Exhibit Hall and find out about all of the cool things that we Partners do!

Great info! Love the tips. Even coming from SLC, I'll definitely need to prep to attack the high altitude in Keystone. This is a great list for coming to InstructureCon! 


stefaniesanders‌ is spot on about electrolytes. I have to think the Acli-Mate helped; I started drinking it on and off just prior to traveling from Palm Coast (elevation: 31'). I had a rough first night, but was feeling pretty good by the end of the first day. Another point, if you fly into Denver, be prepared for a long drive or shuttle "up" to Keystone. We talked our driver into a pit stop about 1/2 way, but bring some snacks and that water before you get into a shuttle.


Deactivated user‌, thanks for that observation. Until now I didn't realize that Salt Lake City has an average elevation of only 4,327 feet above sea level--so a quick ascent to over 9,000 feet can be a big deal.


Super helpful! I was at InstCon last year, and missed the Tuesday unconference due to altitude sickness. This year I will try the Acli-Mate, and will spend a day or so in Denver beforehand. I think I'll take your tip and do some stair workouts in advance; every place I walk/run here is FLAT. And you can get away with packing less clothes than you might need because (a) there is always some awesome swag, and (b) you might buy some Keystone souvenirs to wear; then (c) your bags will be too full on the way home!

Community Advocate
Community Advocate

Southwest Airlines.   You get to check two bags for free.   I flew out last year with nothing but my western boots in a 2nd suitcase, because, why not?  That 2nd suitcase returned back to the east coast PACKED with SWAG.  So glad I did this. Smiley Wink

Coming from Delaware where we have one hill that locals from the entire state know by name (Iron Hill), I came out a day early before the Unconference last year and it was absolutely worth it.  I forced myself to get out of the room and explore and walk around, but at my own pace with lots of breaks and rest.   I also discovered the canned oxygen being sold at all of the Keystone resort gift shops.  WORTH $10!  And lasted me the week.  And also had the acli-mate too.

Network!  If you are traveling solo like I do, post where you are hanging out or where you are headed for dinner, etc so other solo pandas can join you!  

Great article stefaniesanders!!


Thanks,‌! was originally the one who tipped me off to making sure to leave room in my bag for swag (heh), and now you and have underscored it--so that's a great tip about Southwest Airlines, for those who have that option available! (Sadly, I don't.)

Community Member

Thank you for the tips Stefanie.  I never thought about altitude sickness.  We are looking forward to the Conference.  Perhaps we will see you there.

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Thanks again to everyone for all the tips. This year I am (a) flying SouthWest thanks to Beth Crook and (b) am starting Acli-Mate as soon as it arrives in the mail. I didn't get to spend time in Denver in advance, because it's inconvenient to get the Mountain Shuttle from anywhere but the airport; but I am arriving Monday noonish, so hopefully that helps. Now I should follow Stefanie's other advice and change my avatar to a recognizable picture (instead of my horse). See some of you there!


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