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The Ski Community Responds to Hilaree Nelson’s Death

"She showed me that you don’t need to be only tough and badass to succeed in the mountains, you can be kind and nurturing, hard as nails and still soft and caring."

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Since Hilaree Nelson, 49, was first reported missing on the southern slope of 26,781-foot Manaslu in the Himalayas on the morning of September 26, the ski community at large has poured out their support for her and her partner, Jim Morrison, in droves. At first, it was hope for her safe return, but after her body was found and Nelson was reported dead on September 28, the messages have come in the form of remembrance—of a mentor, mother, partner, hero, and skier. Here’s a look at just a handful of the many heartfelt tributes from those who knew and loved Nelson and were most impacted by her life and loss.

Jim Morrison, partner

 

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A post shared by Jim Morrison (@jimwmorrison)

“There are no words to describe the love for this woman, my life partner, my lover, my best friend, and my mountain partner. She has been the beacon of light in my life day in and day out.
On September 26th at 10:42 am we reached the true summit of Manaslu in tough conditions.

We quickly transitioned from climbing to skiing in cold and wind with a plan to ski around the corner and regroup with our Sherpa team. I skied first and after a few turns Hilaree followed and started a small avalanche. She was swept off her feet and carried down a narrow snow slope down the south side (opposite from climbing route) of the mountain over 5000’. I did everything I could to locate her but was unable to go down the face as I hoped to find her alive and live my life with her.

I spent the last two days searching from the air in a helicopter.

Today with the help of @capt_surendra an incredibly skilled pilot we were able to land at 22,000 feet and search for her. @nimsdai was instrumental in helping organize the best team and resources possible and I found her body with the aid of @mt.sherpa today at 10:30 am. I’m in Kathmandu with her and her spirit.

My loss is indescribable and I am focused on her children and their steps forward. @hilareenelson is the most inspiring person in life and now her energy will guide our collective souls.

🙏 Peace be with us all. Pray for her family and community which is broadly stretched across our planet.

I’m devastated by the loss of her.”

Ingrid Backstrom, pro skier and The North Face teammate

 

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A post shared by Ingrid Backstrom (@ingridbackstrom)

“Hilaree Nelson was a true force of nature and a shining light. So clearly successful, hardworking, talented, driven, fun, hilarious, and amazing. She was so comfortable being uncomfortable, like when this 747 pilot invited us into the cockpit as we descended into Skardu, while the automated voice in the cockpit urged “Pull up, pull up, you are descending too fast!” Or leading and getting frustrated on a climb in Tuolumne and then working through the struggles and moving forward.

Her example of living with integrity let me be more okay with being myself. She showed me that you don’t need to be only tough and badass to succeed in the mountains, you can be kind and nurturing, hard as nails and still soft and caring. She helped encourage me to follow my own path and to know I don’t have to be any one thing. As a mentor on the mountain, in Baffin, Pakistan, Denali, shredding laps at Stevens or Crystal, or climbing a tower in Sedona, she led in the best possible way.

Her way of leading was not to tell me how to do it. She just went ahead and did it and let me follow, leading by example, and gently explaining if necessary. She was extremely patient except when it was go time or summit day, and then her (still extremely patient) patience occasionally lapsed into gentle exasperation with the mere mortals around her, like me, because no one was more strong or more capable or more belonging in the mountains than Hilaree.

Those times were when I knew it was time to suck it up and go harder than I thought possible, because I wanted to make Hilaree proud. Hers was the best kind of leadership and friendship. She motivated, inspired, showed me the best way to peel garlic cloves, admitted when she was struggling, and could tell the most hilarious unbelievable stories and laugh for hours in a car or in a tent at the ridiculousness of it all. She was so proud of her boys and such a role model as a mom and kickass trailblazer. I will continue to hold her spirit close and strive to be more like Hilaree, which is to say more like myself. My heart is with her boys, her family, and @jimwmorrison ❤️”

Emily Harrington, pro skier, climber, and The North Face teammate

 

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A post shared by Emily Harrington (@emilyaharrington)


“I haven’t been able to process my confusion over the loss of @hilareenelson: a friend, mentor, and big sister to me. There’s immense hurt for her, @jimwmorrison, and her family, but also a disjointed and broken numbness over the reality of her absence. It’s painful and disorienting and I’m not there yet with how to handle it.

But I write this to tell you that beyond this tragedy, Hilaree was a force to be remembered not for this accident or even the physical mountains she climbed and so expertly skied down, but for unapologetically paving the way for women in this space to be everything they want to be. She broke ground and shattered expectations with a unique combination of grace and grit only a true leader possesses.

When I became pregnant this past spring, Hilaree was one of the first and only people I told initially. She was ecstatic and supportive and instilled in me the calm confidence I needed to go on our expedition to Baffin Island. That trip felt special before I knew it would be our last together. It was like I had crossed over into a new space paved by women like Hilaree – those who chose motherhood AND a career of adventure. Each night we spoke of skiing, climbing, kids, and ways to balance it all. “It’s hard, but you’ll figure it out” she told me.

I feel so fortunate for the decade of adventure I had with Hilaree. Holy shit we went some places and saw some things. When I look back on the last 10 years – some of my most terrifying, suffery, soul shattering, life altering and beautiful moments were experienced with Hilaree by my side and leading the way. I will never forget her intense desire to find her perceived limit and push past it balanced by her calm demeanor and tenderness as a friend and mentor. She was the best.

Her influence and dedication to her passion has paved the way for future generations and will live on in each of us. Our world will miss Hils but we are better because of who she was and the monumental impact she’s had on us all.

Love to everyone touched by Hils, especially @jimwmorrison and her boys ❤️”

Cody Townsend, pro skier and mountaineer

 

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A post shared by Cody Townsend (@codytownsend)

“This one hurts. @hilareenelson has been an underground hero of mine for a long time. Before I knew of ski mountaineering, before I started partaking in the act of climbing and skiing mountains, I remember being a young skier who was mesmerized by this woman doing the impossible. I didn’t even know really any ski mountaineers at the time, but I knew Hilaree was the baddest one out there. Over the years I got lucky to know her, ski with her and be on big mountains with her. No matter how many times I hung out, went skiing or got wasted at 14k camp on Denali with her, I always felt an aura of her being some sort of humble superhero. She truly was a giant of the sport, of mountains and of our community and she will be sorely missed by so damn many. Hil was someone I looked up to so much and her loss…well there is a lot to process from it. I know this has been all from my perspective and not a wholistic view of her, but I wanted to share how much she meant to me because even though I was on the periphery of her life, if she impacted me this much, I know her impact on others was equally vast.

I hurt for her family, her kids, her community and her partners. She fucking ruled and this just sucks.”

Hadley Hammer, pro skier and The North Face teammate

 

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A post shared by Hadley Hammer (@hadhammer)

“There’s a cliche Proust quote that goes something like “never meet the people you admire, you’ll be disappointed”. And to that, I want to say bullshit…find better heroes. And if you get the chance to meet them, or better yet be close to them, bask in the gratitude for the opportunity to witness their kindness and grace and strength up close.

It was a joy to live in your world @hilareenelson -thank you for all the laughter and adventures and long talks. All my love to you, to @jimwmorrison , to your brother and sister and parents and to your boys. Will live and laugh and ski with a bag full of sausage n your memory. I love you and h- shit will I miss you.”