Stefanie Sanders

InstCon2017[2018] Prep: Calling all flatlanders

Discussion created by Stefanie Sanders Administrator on Feb 5, 2017
Latest reply on Jun 28, 2018 by Kelly Griffith

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). July 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 ). 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 Ira Strauss 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! 


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