Skiers raising money, going for record
KEYSTONE – Hedonism is rampant in the High Country, and Freda Nieters, at 74, chases pleasure like the rest of us. Don’t ask her to wait for you if it’s time to go fast. She will break the ego of most headstrong youngsters that attempt to match her pace. But go deeper – into Freda’s vitality and her love for the snow. As a founding 30-year employee of the Keystone ski school, Nieters has given thousands of students the gift of controlling gravity, making her a master of what feels good. Still, teaching people a love for skiing is not the end goal of life. After the lifts close and the free-falling joy of sliding is over, reality continues. Nieters’ understands that while skiing has marked her existence, it is just a way to express herself. As she says, “It is what I know how to do.”
And it’s what Nieters turned to when her 5-month-old grandson, Zachary, died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, better known as SIDS, a year ago January. The intense grief was coupled with a call to action. She found her answer to what she calls “a marriage between love for people and a love for skiing” in the location and sport she knows best. Wednesday, in honor of her 75th birthday, Nieters will attempt to ski 75,000 vertical feet at Keystone in 10 hours to raise money for SIDS research. Nieters gracefully walks the line between self-promotion and working for SIDS research. When talking about the Ski for SIDS event, she keeps saying, “If we can just save one baby …” Seven babies die from SIDS every day in the U.S. No cause has been pinpointed, though there are certain measures, like making sure babies are not overdressed and putting infants on their backs to sleep, that may prevent SIDS. Still, there is no way to determine which babies are prone to stop breathing in their cribs.Pink one piece
If raising money for the event itself wasn’t enough, Nieters feat of skiing 75,000 feet in 10 hours will set a world record for people her age. “No little old fossil lady has skied that much in that amount of time,” she said. Not that recognition matters to Nieters. A world record would mean another mention, another outlet for promoting SIDS research. That’s what all of the publicity is for – from articles in parenting magazines, to local presentations and the SIDS alliance Web site. In contrast to most skiers and snowboarders that inflate their egos with rotations and vertical, Nieter’s sustained 10 hours of skiing will come from the heart, she said. She’ll be flying down Keystone’s front side starting at 7 a.m. in a hot pink one piece with a “Freddy Bear” – a nickname given to Nieters by her ski school students – jersey on top. The mention of this ostentatious outfit makes Nieters blush immediately. “I’m just an actor in a costume,” she said. “I’m not skiing for the recognition, I’m skiing for SIDS.”That is, she’s an actor on a stage she is deeply connected to. The beginner terrain park Freda’s Incubator and the run Freda’s Way are named after Nieters. Her legacy on the mountain runs beyond her namesakes and the SIDS event – she already skied 70,000 vertical feet on her 70th birthday to raise money for ski school scholarships for needy kids.
‘A calm reflective spirit’For Wednesday’s Ski for SIDS event, Nieters has called on her supporting cast, the community members she has known throughout her 35 years in Summit County. Sgt. Mark Hanschmidt, the first responder on the day of Zachary’s death, will be officiating Nieter’s push for the world record. Vail Resorts’ Roger McCarthy has had a long-standing relationship with Nieters, and Nieters said he is training to be able to ski a run with her during the event. Then there’s the speed patrollers, or “yellow jackets,” as Nieters calls them, that will be directing traffic from the Freda’s screaming fast course so she can speed through with ease. And she will rip. To say that Nieters is fast for her age is not only an understatement, its a misrepresentation. She is just plain fast for a skier of any age. She has managed to hold on to the skills that made her a NCAA champion in the slalom and downhill events more than 50 years ago. She’ll bring her Norwegian roots and her perfect form with her as she skies a distance almost three and a half times the distance of Mt. McKinley.
On Wednesday morning, Nieters said, she will wake up early and enjoy the early morning light. “Then,” she says as she slams her fist on the table, disturbing one of her trademark cups of hot chocolate, “I will dive in and I’ll go. A calm, reflective spirit will kick in.”So, when asked if skiing 75,000 vertical feet in 10 hours would be physically challenging, Nieters responded with a smile and a “no.” “It will be a respect for the moment,” she said. “I’ll recharge with some inner strength that’s not really mine.”Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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