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Hilaree Nelson: Outdoors community mourns ski mountaineer after death on Manaslu

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(NEW YORK) — The outdoors community is grieving the sudden loss of ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson, a legend of extreme feats who died after a small avalanche coming down from the peak of the world’s eighth highest mountain.

“Pray for her family and community, which is broadly stretched across our planet,” her partner, Jim Morrison, wrote Wednesday. “I’m devastated by the loss of her.”

Nelson and Morrison were attempting to ski down Manaslu on Monday when she triggered a small avalanche, according to Morrison, that took her “down a narrow snow slope.” Search efforts located her body Wednesday.

“They say don’t meet your heros [sic]. She was one of the very few I’ve met over the years who lived up to the hype,” skier Lynsey Dyer wrote Wednesday, adding that Nelson “was kind and humble and beautiful and so strong.”

Nelson, 49, was an epic ski mountaineer who made a career climbing the world’s biggest peaks — and skiing down them. Expeditions took her across the globe, working with and meeting many different athletes along the way, many of whom shared tributes, memories and love for Morrison and for Nelson’s two children.

“Hils showed us all a way to push and strive and fight for the big goals and the life she loved, while always finding joy and meaning even in failures,” mountaineer Adrian Ballinger, who attempted the first ski descent of Makalu with her in 2015, wrote.

Mountaineer Garrett Madison wrote that he met Nelson in 2012, when she became the first woman to summit mounts Everest and Lhotse within 24 hours.

“Her stoke, reverence and care for the mountains, & her teammates, was deep and contagious,” he said.

Rock climber Renan Ozturk reminisced on an expedition in the Burmese Himalayas where they faced many challenges.

“Yes, she was unbelievably strong on the mountain carrying more weight than anyone, but it was also the way she carried herself during the hard moments in between… uplifting everyone around her and finding laughter even within the hardship,” he wrote.

Nelson was also remembered fondly in her home community of Telluride, Colorado, with snowboarder Lucas Foster calling her “a regular face around town, a badass skier that literally changed the game, regular mom dropping her kids off at skate camp.”

While Nelson was a groundbreaking athlete across genders, she held a special significance for the women who were inspired by her, particularly athletes considering motherhood.

Skier Evelina Nilsson recalled meeting her at an athlete summit for The North Face, for which Nelson served as team captain: “I remember how deeply moved and inspired I was of everyone but especially you and @kitdski. Seeing incredible super moms/humans who paved the way for all the next generations. Leading by example.”

“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,” rock climber Emily Harrington wrote. “She broke ground and shattered expectations with a unique combination of grace and grit only a true leader possesses.”

Harrington, who is pregnant with her first child with mountaineer Ballinger, wrote that Nelson was one of the first she told about her pregnancy as they were going on an expedition this past April in Baffin Island, Canada. She said Nelson encouraged her, as a fellow woman “who chose motherhood AND a career of adventure.”

Snowboarder Leanne Pelosi shared that Nelson was also one of the first people she told when she found out she was pregnant.

“It’s hard to put into words how much impact Hilaree had on us all, but these stories of how she influenced anyone from the top athlete in the world to the people she worked with allows us to celebrate her life and her legacy,” she wrote.

It is a particularly tragic month in the mountaineering community. Lower down on Manaslu, an avalanche struck more than a dozen climbers, killing one and prompting group efforts for successful rescue operations over Monday and Tuesday.

Many of these efforts, including the search for Nelson, were led by members of Elite Exped, including legend Nims Purja. Purja had shared that three Elite Exped members, Ashok Wenjha Rai, Karsang Tenjing Sherpa and Tsewang Sherpa, were killed in a fire last week at the company’s headquarters in Kathmandu.

“This week has been so hard for so many — our thoughts and prayers are with the families of our dear brothers — as well as our dear friends — who lost loved ones this week,” Purja wrote on Wednesday. “The mountain community is tight knit and that’s why it’s so important to look after and care for each other.”

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