Pioneering skier Hilaree Nelson honored at Telluride at memorial

Hundreds of family members, friends and fans of Hilaree Nelson turned up to Telluride Town Park Saturday to celebrate the life and legacy of the local ski mountaineer.

Nelson, 49, died on Sept. 26 while skiing Nepal’s Mount Manaslu, the eighth highest peak in the world, with her partner Jim Morrison. The Associated Press reported she fell off the 26,775-foot summit and her body was recovered days later.

In Nepal, locals honored Nelson with a traditional funeral in which Buddhist monks presided over the lighting of a pyre and prayer, reported KUNC. In her hometown of Telluride, folks flocked from far and wide to remember the trailblazing outdoorswoman with a magnetic personality whose only fear was living a mundane life.

Tibetan prayer flags adorned the entryway to the venue and flanked the sides of the stage in Town Park, in front of which attendees to the memorial sat in camping chairs beneath a bluebird sky. Over the course of two hours, Nelson’s siblings, friends and fellow athletes told of her daring adventures, natural charm and sage wisdom that impacted their lives.

Nelson took part in more than 40 expeditions to 16 countries and by all accounts, she was a role model for women in the outdoor industry, summitting the world’s highest peaks to break the glass ceiling for future athletes. She did it all proudly as a mother of two sons, Grayden and Quinn, speakers attested.

“It’s hard to illustrate Hilaree’s profound impact on this world in a few minutes because Hilaree wasn’t just an athlete in a niche mountain sport. She was an absolute force who carved a space for herself at a time when women weren’t expected to excel, let alone lead the charge,” renowned climber Emily Harrington said in her eulogy. “She did both, and she did it in a way that enabled and uplifted other women to do the same.”

  • Skier Hilaree Nelson had partaken in more than 40 mountaineering expeditions in 16 countries before her passing on Sept. 26, 2022. Friends and fans honored her legacy as an athlete, mother and neighbor at a memorial in Telluride on Oct. 15. (Photo by Tiney Ricciardi, The Denver Post)

  • Jimmy Chin, National Geographic photographer and renowned mountaineer, honored Hilaree Nelson in a eulogy on Oct. 15, 2022: “There’s a Daoist saying that goes, the greatest leaders are the ones you don’t know are leading. Thank you for showing us what it means to be a truly great leader. We will miss you Hilaree." (Photo by Tiney Ricciardi, The Denver Post)

  • Hilaree Nelson "was an absolute force who carved a space for herself at a time when women weren’t expected to excel let alone lead the charge,” renowned climber Emily Harrington said in her eulogy during a memorial at Telluride Town Park on Oct. 15. (Photo by Tiney Ricciardi, The Denver Post)

Nelson’s courageous feats extended beyond the globe’s tallest mountains. In his eulogy, Sen. John Hickenlooper called Nelson a “hero,” touting her work lobbying in Washington, D.C. on behalf of climate change advocacy organization Protect Our Winters. Hickenlooper credited Nelson with helping pass the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes some of the most sweeping efforts to combat climate change in U.S. history.

“The urgency and sheer determination in her voice, her will was noted by numerous senators,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s hard to give up on something that matters after you’ve watched a movie of Hilaree and Jim summiting and then skiing down the fourth highest mountain in the world.”

As the memorial wrapped up, attendees joined in a collective shouting of Hilaree’s name, so loud it echoed off the mountains. It was a fitting tribute to a figure who loomed large than life over the valley, often literally as she scaled the mountains surrounding it.

“There’s a Daoist saying that goes, the greatest leaders are the ones you don’t know are leading,” Jimmy Chin, National Geographic photographer and renowned mountaineer, said in his eulogy. “Thank you for showing us what it means to be a truly great leader. We will miss you, Hilaree.”

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