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Scientists test exercise at Mt Hutt. Test at altitude to aid respiratory sufferers

Researchers say the summit of Mt Hutt ski field is the perfect place to measure oxygen levels among skiers

An exercycle is not what you would expect to find at the top of a ski field, but one has been put to great use on the summit of Mt Hutt.

The oxygen levels of skiers exercising at altitude are being studies in the hope it will help people with respiratory problems when they fly.

Researchers say the summit of Mt Hutt ski field is the perfect place to measure oxygen levels among skiers - and plane passengers.

"It's a lot easier logistically for us to exercise - bring all the gear up and get them going - rather than taking it onto a plane," says scientist Paul Kelly.

At the summit, the air pressure is the same as the cabin of an aircraft at cruising altitude.

Volunteers were fitted with an oximetre, which measures the amount of oxygen in the blood, and then made to pedal for 10 minutes - first at sea level, and then again at the summit, where there is lower air pressure.

The team from Otago University hope to use the findings to make air travel easier and cheaper for people with chronic lung disease or emphysima.

"So we can help people with respitory diseases who are flying on commercial flights to know whether or not they need oxygen, and what is normal or abnormal by working out what normal people do," says scientist Rachel Wiseman.

Airlines can charge up to $800 for extra oxygen, and the researchers are hoping to provide evidence which proves they may not even need it.

"Hopefully we are going to show that it is actually quite normal to desaturate, and so for a person with lung disease - if they desaturate we don't need to panic about it," says Mr Kelly.

The team have tested over 100 skiers and snowboarders so far, and will be lugging their exercycle back up the mountain for a few weeks yet.

"Quite a few people have taken photos so we're going to be in photo albums all over the world I think, a few strange looks, some people wanted a go," says Ms Wiseman.

With the views Mt Hutt offers, the scientists say it will be a hard push to return to the lab.