Elsa Bailey with NHA guide and polar bear

Elsa Bailey with NHA Expedition Leader Andrea Reynolds on her October 2014 trip to see polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba.

At age 100, Elsa Bailey became one of Nat Hab’s most memorable guests when we invited her to join our Tundra Lodge and Town Adventure to Churchill, Manitoba in 2013, after learning that seeing polar bears in the wild was one of the remaining items on her bucket list.

We are sad to report that Elsa has passed away, just a few days before her 103rd birthday.

Elsa with sled dogs and expedition leader in Churchill

Elsa enjoyed visiting with the sled dogs on her Canadian adventure (shown here with NHA Expedition Leader Eric Rock). She said they reminded her of working with sled dogs in Alaska, where she lived in her 50s.

Elsa was a true adventurer who traveled the world throughout her long life. She worked as an occupational therapist and visited India, Africa, and other global destinations. She also participated in adventure sports such as whitewater kayaking, scuba diving and skiing.

Nat Hab discovered Elsa thanks to her love of skiing when Adventure Prep Specialist Becky Pahl saw Elsa celebrating her 100th birthday by skiing at Arapahoe Basin in May 2013.

Elsa learning about her free trip to see polar bears with Nat Hab

Elsa with NHA Adventure Prep Specialist Becky Pahl right after learning that she would get to see the polar bears.

During local TV coverage of her birthday adventure on the slopes, Elsa talked about a few final items that remained on her travel bucket list, including seeing polar bears in their natural habitat. When Nat Hab President Ben Bressler heard about Elsa’s dream, he knew the company could fulfill it. Ben invited Elsa to come see the bears with us, with NHA Adventure Specialist and Expedition Leader Andrea Reynolds as her personal guide.

Elsa loved her time at the Tundra Lodge, seeing polar bears up close and even getting up in the middle of the night to watch the Northern Lights — twice! Elsa and Andrea formed a close friendship during the trip, built on sharing meals, Elsa’s delight at seeing polar bears and other tundra wildlife, and the warm, strong hugs Elsa gave Andrea each night to show her love and her appreciation for Andrea’s help.

After the trip, the two women met a few times a year to spend time with family on holidays and enjoy tall stacks of pancakes with lots of syrup at Elsa’s favorite restaurant, IHOP.

“It’s not what happens that makes you happy, it’s what you decide to do,” Elsa told the Denver Post in May 2013. “You can be sick and if you want to be happy, all you have to do is turn on the happy machine. I try and turn on the happy machine as often as I can.”

Elsa’s zest for life, abundant energy and inherent warmth charmed everyone on the trip, and earned her a place in the hearts of Nat Hab’s staff and her fellow guests. Her never-ending desire to stay active and keep exploring will continue to inspire all of us!

Elsa Bailey on her trip to see polar bears

Elsa Bailey in Churchill.