How Hilaree Nelson Inspired A Generation Of Ski Mountaineers

Tributes pour in from the ski mountaineering world after Hilaree Nelson is cremated in Nepal

The Himalayan ski season came to an abrupt and devastating end following a series of avalanche incidents on many of 8,000 metre peaks. One of them took the life of a true pioneer in the ski mountaineering world, Hilaree Nelson, who was caught in a small avalanche after skiing from the summit of the 8,163 metre himalayan giant, Manaslu.

Hilaree was swept down the remote south side of the mountain before finally stopping 1,900 metres from the summit. It wasn’t until a few days after the accident before a rescue party, led by her partner, Jim Morison, managed to find her body.

Following the discovery of her body, Hilaree was laid to rest in a traditional Nepalese ceremony yesterday, where her body was cremated in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Her ashes are planned to be brought back to Telluride where her two sons are currently living.


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The first woman to link both Everest and Lhotse together in 24-hours and the first person, along with Jim, to ski the ski mountaineer’s dream Lhotse Couloir, Hilaree’s career spanned dozens of first descents over more than 40 expeditions covering Baffin, Denali and the Greater Ranges. It’s something she managed to balance alongside being a mother of two sons, Graydon and Quinn.

Chamonix-based UIAGM mountain guide and fellow mother, Caroline George, reflected on the legacy that Hilaree left: “Sitting here, I can’t really think of another mother who has done so much and so big after having children. She is my upward pull. She has legitimised my choices to keep guiding and pursue adventures all the while being a mother.”

Credit: Nick Kalisz
Hilaree Nelson gazes up towards the Lhotse Face, from Camp 3. Credit: Dutch Simpson

Motherhood and the cutting-edge of ski mountaineering – sadly – rarely go hand in hand. With media putting such an emphasis on the responsibilities of motherhood and limiting exposure to risk following childbirth. Hilaree was an inspiration for Caroline, and many other women, who looked to live their lives after having children to the fullest.

“A father dies in the mountains, well he was out there living his dream. A mother loses her life living her passion will be judged a lot harsher. And this is in essence what stops women from pursuing their dreams. The judgement.

“She gifted me these words when my daughter was only 1 years old and I was in search of chaperoning for my path as a mother: ‘As for not seeing your little girl grow up – it won’t be because of what you do or don’t do in the mountains. It would only be because death is part of life.’”


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Fellow pro skier, Ingrid Backstrom, highlighted the fact that Hilaree didn’t conform to the stereotypical macho look of a traditional male ski mountaineer, showing her that you don’t need to represent a ‘tough’ image to perform in the mountains. You can, Ingrid says, “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 … She just went ahead and did it and let me follow, leading by example, and gently explaining if necessary … no one was more strong or more capable or more belonging in the mountains than Hilaree.”

Fellow The North Face athlete and mountaineer Conrad Anker, in writing to Hilaree after her death, rounded up the communities’ feelings perfectly. “The happiness you experienced in the mountains and shared with millions of women was an invitation to seek the power, independence and confidence that traveling in the mountains brings. You have empowered a generation of women to seek out adventure. By uplifting women, you make the world a more equitable place. And this uplifts all people.”

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