Oxygen company capitalizes on Summit’s altitude
January 30, 2007
SUMMIT COUNTY ” It’s no secret that the simple chore of taking a breath can be a challenge in the High Country, especially for folks visiting from sea level.
Tyler MacGuire wants to help those people breathe easier and enjoy their time in Summit County.
MacGuire is part owner of The Oxygen Company, Inc., which distributes bottled oxygen as its primary business.
“There’s just such a strong niche for it,” MacGuire said. “People come up here, they spend a lot of money to be on vacation, they get here, they feel awful and that basically defeats the purpose of vacation if you’re going to feel like garbage.”
The Oxygen Company is the sole distributor of Oxia bottled oxygen in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, and sold 5,000 bottles in those three states last year. The portable bottles are about the size of a small water bottle and provide 23-and-a-half liters of concentrated oxygen, or about 12 to 15 uses per bottle.
Each refillable bottle costs between $60 and $70 and refills range from $15 to $20, but some places rent the bottles for about $20 a day, MacGuire said.
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Since The Oxygen Company began selling Oxia in 2005 (MacGuire didn’t join the company until last January), Summit and Pitkin counties have become the two locations with the highest concentration of retailers selling Oxia in the nation.
Locally, it’s carried by 13 ski shops, hotels and markets around the county.
Carver’s Ski and Snowboard Shop in Breckenridge began stocking Oxia four months ago, and also rents it like “a propane exchange,” said shop manager Sam Brede.
Brede said the product has been successful among tourists who come into the shop to rent skis and leave with peace of mind that they’ll be able to get in plenty of runs at 10,000 feet.
“It works. It’s really saved some vacations,” he said.
Although out-of-towners are definitely the target market for Oxia in Summit County, there are locals out there who swear by the benefits of a few pulls off the bottle while hiking in the backcountry or, in some cases, as a recovery method after a big night out.
“I think it’s amazing,” said 22-year-old Andrew Luce, who’s lived in the county for three years, and started using Oxia when he spotted it at A Big Hit Snowboard Shop. “Especially for hangovers. Wake up in the morning take five breaths of that and you feel a lot better.”
For the record, Luce says he uses Oxia more often when he’s out hiking with his dog than as a hangover cure.
Interestingly, Oxia wasn’t developed for high-altitude use, and instead is marketed as a wellness amenity sold in high-end, big-city hotels and has turned up in gift baskets at the Academy Awards for the last few years, MacGuire said.
But, when MacGuire’s partners realized the potential of the product in high altitude, they pounced.
Sales during Christmas 2005 compared with sales from this past holiday season grew 150 to 200 percent, MacGuire said. He believes that Americans are just beginning to catch on to a product that’s already hugely popular in Europe and Asia.
“There was the whole oxygen bar craze in the late 90s that flailed a little bit,” MacGuire said. “I think some people saw the benefits of it, but who’s got 30 minutes to go sit and spend $1 a minute to hook up to some machine? This you can take with you everywhere you go. I ski with it in my pocket, I carry it in the backcountry.”
Not to say there aren’t some skeptics out there, who can’t understand paying for an element so readily available, and free.
But when 65 percent of the teams in the NHL began keeping Oxia on their benches last year, it made MaGuire’s job a little easier.
“That kind of lent a lot of creditability to it for us because prior to that you’d walk in you’d try to pitch it to somebody and they say, ‘What the hell do I need this for, this doesn’t do anything, it’s just air,'” he said.
The Oxygen Company also sells and installs personal oxygen generators for people’s homes or gyms, which can pump an entire room with concentrated oxygen.
That costs between $3,500 and $7,000 depending on the size of a room, MacGuire said.
Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.