While most of us have likely packed up our skis for the season, making way for golf clubs and mountain bikes, Elsa Bailey of Colorado Springs decided to click in for one more run on Saturday at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. Not an especially remarkable feat, except that Bailey celebrated her 100th birthday on Friday.
Actually for Bailey, the skiing was part of a three-day party, and rightfully so. She’s certainly earned it.
Bailey spent Friday night with family and friends at Joe’s Crab Shack in Colorado springs where, according to Marcia Wick, who organized the A-Basin ski party, Bailey had some red wine and even danced a little.
“They were cheering for me so I got up and danced,” Bailey confirmed.
She left her home in Colorado Springs early Saturday morning to come to A-Basin to make her final ski run. As of Saturday, she has decided to retire from the sport, which she has enjoyed for 75 years.
Bailey arrived at A-Basin around 10 a.m. and proceeded to walk up about 30 stairs, barely assisted by her ski guides, to the upper deck of the A-frame lodge where her birthday party was held. She immediately greeted the gathered crowd with a loud, clear, “Hello everybody. I’m here, and I’m a hundred.”
“Do you want to sit down,” one of the party organizers asked.
“Whatever,” Bailey responded casually.
She then proceeded to sit and take questions from guests and a few reporters.
When a Colorado Springs reporter asked for the name of the nursing home where she lived, Elsa quickly responded with a sassy, “It’s not a nursing home. I beg your pardon. It’s a retirement community.”
Remarkably, Bailey currently resides in an independent-living apartment by herself, where she says she exercises every morning.
So what’s her secret?
“I do things my way,” she says.
Over the years, her way has included white-water kayaking, scuba diving, rock climbing, hiking and traveling the world. One of her friends in the Sliver Streaks ski club said Bailey was still skiing black-diamond runs when she turned 80, and that she traveled to Brazil last year.
As for skiing on her hundredth birthday, it goes back to a promise she made to her ski club friends on her 90th birthday, which also was celebrated at A-Basin.
Before walking to the slopes, Bailey shared more about her remarkable life with the attentive crowd.
Of her first pair of skis, she said, “I paid $7 for ’em.”
Then she paid $25 for her second pair. “Those were expensive!”
She started skiing on the East Coast before A-Basin ski area existed.
“Stowe, Vermont, was the place to ski in those days.”
She said she remembers when there was only a tow rope at the parks where she skied, and the lift ticket cost $1. But she would walk up the hills instead.
She recalled being 10 when her family got their first radio. She mentioned witnessing the arrival of television and the rise of commercial air travel.
After talking for an hour, it was time to ski. When asked if she was nervous, she casually responded, “If I fall, they’ll pick me up.”
Assisted by two guides from Visually Impaired and Blind Skiers of the Colorado Springs Community, a group known as VIBeS, she walked downstairs to a bench where they helped her put on ski boots. Though legally blind, Elsa can still see somewhat. As she sat she also changed her gloves.
“I can’t hold onto my poles with those ones,” she said.
Ski boots on, Bailey rose from the bench unassisted. Two guides alongside, she walked nearly 100 yards to the beginner slope. Then, just as she had 75 years ago in Vermont, she walked up the hill, next to the lift.
At the top of the magic carpet lift she clicked into her skis, with a crowd gathered around her. Before anyone could move out of the way she pushed off, and down the hill she went, completely unassisted. She made three or four turns in front of a cheering crowd and came to a stop at the bottom.
“Do you want to go again,” a guide asked.
“Not really,” she answered, smiling. “One’s enough. I made the first one. I don’t want to fall on the second one.”
Bailey credits a clean lifestyle, exercise and spirituality for her long healthy life.
“When I was 21 I tried a cigarette,” she recalled. “I didn’t think much of it.”
Speaking with her, it is also clear that her positive attitude has helped carry her this far.
“Life is good, life is interesting. Take it as it comes. Just keep plugging and you’ll make it, maybe.”
As for the next 100 years: “I don’t want to live another hundred; a few more will be just fine.”
But Bailey is clearly far from finished. “I’m not going to go to bed and lie down and die, that’s for sure!”
“I’ll do whatever comes around,” she said. “I still haven’t gone to Yellowstone. I’d like to.” She especially wants to see Old Faithful. And if that’s not enough, she also wants to see the fjords in Norway.
Oh, and maybe go on a bus tour to see the polar bears up north.
“I’m not ‘most people.’” — Elsa Bailey