SUMMIT COUNTY - It was a typical birthday weekend for Elsa Bailey.

Dinner with friends and family. Some dancing. A glass of wine. A little skiing.

After all, you only turn 100 once.

OK, most of us never will turn 100, and those who do would consider themselves lucky to walk at that age. But this centenarian from Colorado Springs never has been one to shy away from a challenge, and when it came to celebrating her century on Earth, she was going skiing one last time.

"Ten or 15 years ago, when I had a little more energy, I decided I was going to have my 100th birthday here because I'd be able to ski and I couldn't anywhere else," she said Saturday at Arapahoe Basin, the only ski area still operating in mid-May. "I'd ski two green runs and hang up my skis. Well, I don't have quite as much energy now as I had then, so I'll take a few turns down the hill and hang up my skis."

Bailey, whose birthday was Friday, has been skiing for 70 years. She learned on the icy slopes of Massachusetts on $7 wooden planks that were barely good for turning. A retired occupational therapist, Bailey lost her home in California to a fire in 1989 and moved to a retirement community in Colorado Springs to be closer to skiing.

A lot of people move to Colorado for the skiing. Few do it past the age of 70. But age always has been a number for Bailey, who skis each year. She also has kayaked, scuba-dived in recent years and still travels the world, returning last fall from a trip to South America, which she capped off with a stop at Disney World. She rode the Space Mountain roller coaster four times.

She was asked for the secret to her longevity.

"I do things my way," she said.

Her way involves regular exercise, holistic medicine and clean living. And she never had children, which she acknowledged might have helped.

But most important could be her outlook.

"Life is good. Life is interesting. All you have to do is enjoy it. I was told long ago that it's not what happens that makes you happy, it's what you decide," she said. "You can be sick and if you want to be happy, all you have to do is turn on the happy machine and everything's fine. So I try to turn on the happy machine as often as I can.

"I've had a very good and interesting life. I'm very fortunate."

The body doesn't always cooperate, and her eyesight has deteriorated to the point she is legally blind. So in recent years, she has skied with the Visually Impaired and Blind Skiers of the Colorado Springs Community, the group that organized her birthday party.

Surrounded by friends and family, the 100-year-old was helped up the gentle beginner slope. Then she locked into skis, shooed away the arms offering support and glided downhill, her grin brighter than the snow, raising her arms triumphantly to the sky at the end.

"It feels good. I made it. I wasn't sure I would," she said.

She was asked if she'd like to go again.

"No, no, no, no," she said. "I'm ready to give up my skis."

But she isn't ready to end her adventures. She still has big plans. She wants to see the fjords of Norway, polar bears of the Arctic and Yellowstone National Park.

"I'm not going to go to bed and lie down and die, that's for sure. And I have all these friends to help me go places," she said.


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