Most of the United States is at or slightly above sea level. To live in a place like the Rocky Mountains region makes for a different life at high altitude. Colorado, for example, has 59 14,000-foot mountains, along with over 600 other mountains, ranging from 9,000 feet to 13,000 feet.
People unfamiliar with Colorado see photos and videos of the mountains and fall in love with the idea of living up there. In the U.S. News Best Places to Live in 2021-2022 ranking, Boulder, Colorado, located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, takes the No. 1 spot, in part for its high desirability among U.S. residents.
Most of Colorado’s population lives on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains because it’s easier than living up in the mountains themselves. Larger cities near the mountains are often located on flatter terrain, like Denver on the Front Range, because this area is significantly more accommodating of a normal life.
In total, six metro areas either located in the mountains, at the base of a range or within an easy drive of all that peaks and trails have to offer are among the top 25 Best Places to Live in 2021-2022: Boulder; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Boise, Idaho; Denver; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Salt Lake City.
It’s extremely risky to move directly from sea level into the mountains. Life up there is vastly different. Some folks love it, while others struggle to adapt.
Here are five commonly overlooked aspects that should be thoughtfully considered when moving from lower altitude states directly into the Rocky Mountains or similar high-altitude ranges:
The Rockies are synonymous with beautiful pictures of majestic snow-capped mountains. What you can’t see in those photos is the extremely dry climate that is found in higher elevations. The dry air causes myriad problems, ranging from minor to deadly. Some arid-specific issues include increased allergies, droughts, forest fires, dry skin and static electricity, to name a few.
The snow in the mountains is significantly more intense than it is on the Front Range. Denver sits at an elevation of 5,280 feet, often referred to as the Mile High City. The average elevation of a Colorado mountain town is from 9,000 to 11,000 feet. The abundant snowfall these elevations experience results in a vastly different lifestyle.
In Denver, the snow will roll through town and stop within a few hours. The sun will come out and melt the snow on the streets, and the city is quickly back to its normal activity.
In the mountains, the snow can continue for days and pile up several feet high. Residents can be snowed in for days at a time. Life is harder to manage under these conditions. This is one of the main reasons why fewer people live at higher elevations. Visiting or vacationing in the mountains is considerably different than living there year-round.
Imagine standing on the beach and being able to levitate yourself two miles into the sky. What would be different at the elevation of 11,500 feet? This is a question worth exploring before moving from the beach to the mountains.
Every 500 feet in elevation changes the landscape. This is why when you look at a picture of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, you can see a clear line where the trees stop growing. The air is thinner, and the weather is more extreme. Water evaporates more quickly, and vegetation struggles to survive.
As we age, breathing can become more difficult for some. This often creates a problem for folks who retire to the mountains from a lower altitude. It takes a strong set of lungs to live at these high elevations permanently. Some people adapt well, while others struggle due to the harsh environment.
Often when we think of traffic problems, larger cities like Los Angeles and Chicago come to mind. Believe it or not, small mountain towns have their own set of traffic issues. It’s not a reason to avoid moving to the mountains, but it’s something to be aware of.
Summertime in the mountains is one of the most beautiful experiences that the U.S. has to offer. A stunning backdrop of mountain peaks, perfect weather and beautiful flowers on every corner provide a picturesque vacation spot that will almost instantly cause stress to melt away. Tourists flood the mountains in the summer for these reasons.
Most mountain towns do not have the infrastructure to handle a large influx of people. They generally have one main street running through the center of town, which will slow to a crawl in peak tourist season. Residents living in these areas often complain about the seasonal tourist problem.
This is not true for all mountain towns, but cities like Breckenridge, Woodland Park, and Winter Park in Colorado all have traffic issues. The closer a mountain town is to Denver, the more traffic you can expect, especially on the weekends.
If you are prepared for the influx of tourists, it’s not as big of a deal. If you expect to enjoy the peace and quiet of a small mountain town throughout the entire year, you may be taken aback by the buzz of tourist activity come summer.
Many parts of the southern U.S. don’t experience four seasons. In Houston, for example, summer takes up about three-quarters of the year, just in varying degrees of oppressive heat. Winter consists of a few damp cold fronts sprinkled around the cooler, but still warm, weather. Fall and spring are simply a designation on the calendar. In Colorado, on the other hand, all four seasons are incredible in their own way.
In mountain cities, winter can be found creeping in early fall and lasting through spring. This is one of the hardest parts of living in the Rocky Mountains. In April, Denver visitors can find flowers blooming and the grass newly green, while a short hour’s drive into the mountains can reveal dormant vegetation and snow still in piles on the ground.
Mountain fever is a real problem, and it typically hits in April or May. Those living at higher elevations get glimpses of summer’s arrival but then have to wait another two months as snowstorms continue blanketing the area. Depression sets in for some and makes mountain-living very difficult at this point of the year.
Rocky Mountain wildlife is beautiful and awe-inspiring. Wild turkeys, moose, elk, bears and numerous types of birds cover the area. The local television news often shares viewer photos that showcase the frequent wildlife encounters around town.
While tourists celebrate these animals, they can be a nuisance to residents in the mountains. If you have small pets, you can’t let them wander far off. There is no shortage of mountain wildlife that enjoy eating small dogs and cats. There are even reports of large birds carrying off small pets, never to be seen again. If you are used to living in an area where pets can safely wander outside at their leisure, this may take some time to get used to.
Those blessed with green thumbs that enjoy extensive landscaping or are used to having a garden should be aware that many plants that grow at sea level will not last in the mountains. Even if your plant can withstand the cold, the wildlife can be extremely unforgiving. The abundant deer found in the mountains, who are so beloved by tourists, will very happily treat themselves to most landscaping. Your options will be limited.
If you’re considering life in a mountain town, you’ll need to be aware of some of these negative aspects ahead of time.
The positive aspects of mountain life are so abundant; It’s easy to get lost focusing on them. However, the less discussed elements are the ones that can have the most impact.
The mountains are teeming with opportunities for fun and relaxation, but they are more than simply a vacation destination. They are rugged and wild, filled with wildlife and are home to bizarre weather patterns. Those who call the Rocky Mountains home know all too well what a distinct experience mountain life is from the rest of the U.S.
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5 Things to Consider Before Moving to the Mountains originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 09/28/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.