Elsa Bailey has been a skier most of her life and after turning 100 years old, decided to celebrate by taking a run down a slope at Arapahoe Basin ski
Elsa Bailey has been a skier most of her life and after turning 100 years old, decided to celebrate by taking a run down a slope at Arapahoe Basin ski area. Dozens of family and friends joined her for a party and to witness this great physical feat. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

ARAPAHOE BASIN — After celebrating her 100th birthday dining and dancing with friends, Elsa Bailey celebrated the first day of her 101st year by fulfilling a promise she made a decade ago. She went skiing Saturday at Arapahoe Basin, just as she did when she turned 90.

"Just keep plugging and you'll make it," she said, defining the philosophy of her adventurous life. "Maybe."

Bailey has been skiing for 75 years. She started on a pair of $7 ash skis when tickets for the rope tow in Vermont cost a dollar.

"But I had so much energy in those days I walked up the hills and skied down," she said. "If I could walk up, then it didn't cost anything."

Photos: Elsa Bailey celebrates her 100th birthday

That rebel streak fed adventures across the world, from India to Africa, working as an occupational therapist and hiking, skiing, whitewater kayaking and scuba diving. Last fall she journeyed — solo — to Brazil to visit a healer who, she said, "didn't do anything." Returning from South America, she stopped at Disney World in Florida and rode the Space Mountain roller coaster.

"We went down into the dark. It was scary," she said. So she rode it five times.

Under brilliant skies Saturday, Bailey clicked into a pair of Rossignols and skied while accompanied by dozens of family members and friends who were there to share in her celebration.


"I made it. I feel good," she said, her grin wide as her relatives and friends cheered and the crowded lift line broke into an impromptu "Happy Birthday."

"She's my role model," said Marcia Wick, a blind skier with the Visually Impaired and Blind Skiers of Colorado Springs, one of several ski groups, such as the Silver Streaks Ski Club, that include Bailey as a member. "She's an example that if you set goals and stay active and just keep going and going, you can do anything."

Bailey hung up her skis Saturday, wrapping an enviable 75 years on snow. While she's quitting skiing, she's hardly retiring from adventure. Her bucket list includes touring the Norwegian fjords, seeing polar bears in the Arctic and visiting Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.

"I'm not going to go to bed and lie down and die, that's for sure," she said. "I may be weird, but I'm me. I do things my way."

Blind skier guide Gordon Smith knows that well. He occasionally guides Bailey — who is legally blind — at Monarch Ski Area, where she often disregards rules about following your guide. She also carries a vial of liquor, which she calls her "special eye drops," but they are "for your mouth, not your eyes."

"She takes off and goes wherever she wants, just having a good time," Smith said. "We're always like, 'Where the heck is Elsa?' "

Elsa raised her arms in victory Saturday as 80-something youngsters rallied around her, celebrating a rare skiing centenarian.

"Life has been very different over the years, but life is good. Life is interesting. All you have to do is enjoy it," said the smiling Bailey, who makes sure everyone knows she is not in a nursing home in Colorado Springs but an independent living facility.

"It's not what happens that makes you happy, it's what you decide to do. You can be sick and if you want to be happy, all you have to do is turn on the happy machine. I try and turn on the happy machine as often as I can."

Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, jblevins@denverpost.com or twitter.com/jasontblevins