Hilaree Nelson on Lohtse November 2018. (Photo by Nick Kalisz.)

It should come as little surprise that Hilaree Nelson has been asked to deliver her talk, “Daring Greatly,” as part of Tuesday’s Watershed Education Program at the Sheridan Opera House at 6 p.m. The Telluride-based big mountain skier, adventurer and “lover of magical places,” is an in-demand speaker who can move mountains with her inspiring programs.

Nelson’s larger-than-life stories are a good fit for the Watershed Education Program (WEP), which brings learning about the vibrant ecosystem of the San Miguel Watershed to the young people and adults that live in its midst. Like Nelson, the educators at WEP very much love “magical places.”

Co-hosted by WEP (a program of the nonprofit Telluride Institute), Wilkinson Public Library and Sheep Mountain Alliance, “Daring Greatly” includes Nelson’s keynote presentation, a meet and greet with Nelson, food and libations and fundraising for WEP. Donations from this event will, according to WEP director, Vicki Phelps, help keep youth and adult programs afloat.

“We’re the only organization in the area that provides field programs for public schools in Paradox, Nucla and Naturita, and Telluride for grades 3-12,” Phelps said. “Our field trips are either scientific or cultural.”

WEP approaches its field trips using STREAM (Science Technology Reading Engineering Art Mathematics) curriculum, one that values literacy as an important component.

According to the WEP page on the Telluride Institute site: The Watershed Education Program (WEP) provides hands-on education for grades K-12 in the San Miguel, from its headwaters in the high alpine zone down to the confluence of the San Miguel with the Dolores River. Our main focus is assisting classroom teachers in planning, preparing and executing full day and overnight field trips that are tied directly to their classroom curriculum and the Colorado State Standards. We use the San Miguel River Watershed as the core element of a place-based curriculum that includes science, history, mathematics, language arts and art and offer different programs each season. 

WEP students are exposed to the archeological aspect of the watershed they’re exploring, which gives them an understanding of the area’s ancient inhabitants, as well as the scientific complexities ranging from fish biology to the nature of invertebrate habitats.

Phelps called the programs and classes a “game-changer for kids,” many of whom — particularly students in the West End schools — might not otherwise strap on pair of snowshoes for a hut trip to learn snow science, observe lynx habitat and hear from experts with the forest service.

“That’s a really cool trip,” Phelps said of the overnight Matterhorn cabin excursion.

What Nelson, who also calls herself a “mother of wild boys,” brings to the fundraiser is her own keen appreciation for wild places and her boundless curiosity to explore the unknown. And, by now, her astounding accomplishments in the realm of mountaineering are well known in her hometown. Her talk will include not only how she started on the path of a mountaineer, but will highlight her most recent ski descent of Lohtse in the fall of 2018 with her partner Jim Morrison. But for all Nelson’s tremendous feats on some of the world’s most remote mountains, she will also dedicate her talk to a discussion the times when she did not succeed, her more domestic adventures raising kids, and what it is to live with passion as a compass. That’s the stuff everyone can relate to.

Nelson’s accolades are numerous. Recently named the captain of The North Face Athlete Team, Nelson is a seasoned adventurer with more than 40 expeditions to some of the most remote corners of the globe. Her passion and dedication to climbing and skiing has won her recognition as a 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. She has become a mentor for an upcoming generation of mountain athletes. As a member of Protect Our Winters Riders' Alliance, she shares her stories and life experiences as a voice for advocacy of our wild places.

Her firsts are beyond impressive. They include: the first ski descent of Lhotse Couloir Dream Line; the first descent of Papsura Peak, India; the first female descent of Makalu La Couloir; and the first female link of two, 8,000-meter peaks, Everest and Lhotse.

When she comes down from the mountains and home to Telluride she shifts instantly from mountaineering to motherhood.

“Sometimes I still struggle being two people in one body … but when I get home, I am 100 percent present and Mom. I feel very lucky,” she said in a Daily Planet interview in 2018.

Nelson’s adventures are not unlike those that WEP takes its students on in the summer, winter and school year. The kids (and adults) are immersed in the natural world. It’s dirty and it’s fun and it’s educational, Phelps said.

“They’re getting out and getting their hands dirty and seeing our natural landscape,” she said. “The kids are learning from the experts about careers in forestry or history or biology. They’re getting exposed to all the different uses for water. It’s important.”

And, she said, “everything is free. It’s accessible to everyone.”

“Daring Greatly” is Tuesday at the Sheridan Opera House from 6-8:30 p.m. and is a free event. There’s a silent auction and donations to WEP are gladly accepted.