Despite being legally blind, having a pacemaker, and being hooked up to oxygen, Elsa Bailey made it a point to ski at Arapahoe Basin on May 10—her 100th birthday. SKI magazine caught up with the spirited centenarian to find out how she manages to keep going long after others slow down.
You've been skiing for more than 75 years. What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in the ski industry?
Oh wow! The kind of skis, the kind of skiing, the kind of clothes, everything. It’s like a different world. Not to mention the prices. I bought wood skis for $7 when I started. They were clear ash with no edges. I just slid down forwards, backwards, sideways; whatever got me down the hill. The next pair of skis I got were expensive. They were $25 and were laminated mahogany or something.
What was it like on the hill during those early days?
We wore thick wool sweaters, and they were big heavy canvas squares that they threw over us at the bottom [of the lift] and took off when we got to the top. It cost $1 to get a ropetow ride to the top.
In those days, for us New Yorkers, Stowe was the place to ski. They had real snow—not ice. And later you’d ski in Canada. I even took my skis to Central Park and skied down a little hill there when I was in my mid- to late-20s.
There are people half as young as you on the slopes. What keeps you going?
Determination. I still don’t think I am old. The people who stop skiing have no belief in themselves. They don’t try; they just give up. They’re a bunch of sissies. I do things my way though. I still listen to other people’s advice, but I do what I want.
How often do you ski?
I used to ski every week. But for the last few years it’s been only once or twice a year because I don’t have the energy. In my early 90s, I was still skiing weekly. On my 90th birthday I skied at A-Basin and decided that on my 100th birthday I’d ski two green slopes and hang it up. I haven’t been feeling as well though lately, so I only skied a few hundred yards. Now I’ve skied my last, and I’m happy.
What’s something you want to teach younger generations?
Don’t get in people’s way, and don’t stop in the middle of the hill. Many of my friends have been hit by people who are going too fast or are out of control. Just know proper etiquette. People should also take a lesson. If you ski properly, you learn how to enjoy it more and you hurt yourself less. I understand if they don’t want to spend the money on a lesson, but they’ll enjoy skiing more when they do.