Elsa Bailey celebrates her 90th birthday at Arapahoe Basin
ARAPAHOE BASIN – It’s notable that Elsa Bailey went skiing at Arapahoe Basin on May 10 – the ski area hasn’t been able to stay open that late in the season in several years.
What’s amazing about Bailey skiing that day is that it was her 90th birthday.
But the more one talks to Bailey, a Colorado Springs resident, and the more one talks to her peers in the Silver Streak Seniors Ski Group, the more it becomes apparent that “amazing” only begins to describe her.
Like many retirees, Bailey could have shipped off to warmer climes such as Florida. She grew up in Manhattan and lived in San Francisco for a time, but as her golden years dawned with no family to help her out, she decided it was time to move into a retirement community, and she chose Colorado Springs.
“It’s too humid in Florida,” she said Saturday, in between bites of pizza after taking her first ski run of the day. “And besides, I’m much closer to skiing this way.”
Bailey began skiing 65 years ago – when some of her ski club friends were still infants. She recalled her first experience on the slopes at Aspen: There was only one chairlift, and it was a single-seater. She noted that, back then, ski apparel didn’t even exist, and the lifties would cover guests with tarps to keep them warm on the lift ride.
Her first pair of skis was made of clear ash, she said, “and they cost me $7, if you can believe that.” Bailey said she put the skis to good use. She wore out the inside edges and ended up switching bindings around to make use of the opposite edges. Steel edges were an innovation that didn’t come for another couple years.
Bailey worked as an occupational therapist, but maintained an avid outdoors lifestyle throughout her career. She’s skied all over the United States, including ski touring in California. She was an avid mountain climber, competitive kayaker, swimmer and diver, but she said she’s scaled back in recent years.
“I don’t have time to do everything,” she said.
She joined the Silver Streak club 10 years ago. The group skis once each week, and, once a month, the group takes a three-day ski trip. Bailey said her favorite place to ski in Colorado is Telluride because they have groomed black trails. She said with some disappointment that she used to love Breckenridge, but now Vail Resorts charges seniors to ski. By comparison, she said she was prepared to pay for a lift ticket on a recent trip to Mammoth Mountain in California and was pleasantly surprised to learn the ski area now lets the elder generation ski for free.
“We celebrated by buying a bottle of brandy,” she said.
Bailey missed several ski trips recently. She was on a month-long spiritual retreat in the hills of northern India. Three years ago, she took a safari trip to Africa and went scuba diving in the Red Sea.
“She’s tough to keep up with,” said Joyce Maile, an organizer and bookkeeper for the ski club. “Just up until a few years ago, she was skiing with the hot dogs in our group. She’s unbelievable.”
And she isn’t finished yet. Bailey said she still hopes to achieve a couple goals. She wants to tour the fjords of Norway and travel to Hudson Bay to view polar bears. Bailey also plans to ski two green runs on her 100th birthday.
“Every year, I wonder if this is the year my skiing will stop improving,” Bailey said. “But each year, I get better. I’m no expert, but I’m a good skier.”
To anyone wondering how they can ensure they’ll be hale enough to still ski as a nonagenarian, Bailey had this advice: keep skiing.
“And get lots of fresh air,” she added. “Be positive and drink lots of milk. Most of all, I do the things I like to do and not what people tell me to do.”
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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