With the possible exception of people sitting around hooked up to oxygen hoses, there’s not much about the O2 Lounge that looks like a hospital. It’s an odd sight, really, to see so many people with oxygen reclining on plush leather couches while the stereo plays Bob Marley & The Wailers despite the snow coming down outside.
The O2 Lounge is a small but comfortable oxygen bar on Main Street in downtown Breckenridge. The atmosphere is relaxing: with dim lighting, bright blue walls, comfortable couches and soft, chill music, it’s immediately soothing even before they hook up the oxygen.
If you’re wondering why you should pay for the stuff you already get free, all the time, everywhere, you’re not alone. The truth is you get less of it — a lot less — at altitudes higher than 8,000 feet. At 9,600 feet in town, and just shy of 13,000 feet at the summit of Peak 8, Breckenridge is a little low on oxygen.
A brief explanation: The air you breathe, at sea level or above, is about 21% oxygen. What changes is air pressure: as you go higher, the pressure decreases and the molecules spread out. Consequently, you take in less air (oxygen or otherwise) with each breath. In Breckenridge, your body actually receives about 15% oxygen with every breath, and at the top of Peak 8 it’s somewhere around 12%. Inside the O2 Lounge they sell air with 90% oxygen (you need a prescription for 100%).
According to Ryan, our friendly and helpful bartender, about one-third of low-altitude residents get sick when they come to Breck. Lack of oxygen in your blood often causes what’s commonly known as high-altitude sickness, with symptoms that vary from severe headaches, nausea and weakness to (more seriously) difficulty breathing at rest, confusion and the inability to walk in a straight line. There are only two options: leave or get more oxygen.
Neither my friend Tony nor I suffered from the altitude apart from a slight weariness, but we went to the O2 Lounge nursing the shared hope that we could get a legal and morally justifiable high of sorts. We didn’t get high (not even close), but we did feel great — refreshed, rejuvenated, clear-minded. It was a little like waking up from a great nap on a sunny afternoon, and more than worth the $12 we paid for 15 minutes of air. Imagine what it can do for someone who actually needs it.
“Some people come in sick and leave sick and dissatisfied, but they come back an hour or so later feeling great,” Ryan said.
Kerri Rougemont, who has owned the O2 Lounge with her husband, Shane, for seven years, said the positive affects of oxygen last anywhere from one to three days. The air, which is enriched at the O2 lounge (“with very expensive generators,” Ryan said), is sold with a choice of aromatherapies: Joy, Relaxation, Energy, Clarity, Passion and the hopefully seasonal Christmas Spirit.
The O2 Lounge also offers smoothies, herbal martinis (alcohol free), espresso drinks, sodas and high-speed internet access. If you’d like a can of air to take on the slopes, the bar sells personal oxygen devices (pods) for $19.95.
While we sat at the bar a couple from Florida came in complaining about altitude sickness and, at a laughably mild 26 degrees, the frigid cold. Ryan hooked them up to some oxygen, confident that he could fix one of their problems. There’s little he can do about the snow.
If You Go
The O2 Lounge
500 S. Main St., Breckenridge, 970-453-6262
Josh Bishop, a native of Michigan, is a recent journalism graduate of Metropolitan State College of Denver.
From the Editors: Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.