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By Lucy Higgins • October 18, 2023

This week, The North Face released Earthside, recapping a 2022 undertaking above the Arctic Circle where ski mountaineers Brette Harrington, Christina Lustenberger, Emily Harrington, and Hilaree Nelson skied first descents on Baffin Island. 

Most of us will never claim world-class first descents from our time on trails. Our trails are tracked, and our trailheads crowded. More often than not, we head to paths we’ve trekked countless times. But the takeaways from Earthside remain: to enjoy time spent with others, and to celebrate where we are—not where we’re going or where we’ve been. 

Part of embracing time in the present can come with risk—odds, Nelson says, in the film’s opening scenes, that are inherently worth taking to live life fully. “You have to take risks if you want to learn anything about yourself,” she says. “You have to take risks if you want to expand the self-imposed walls we put around ourselves. I think that’s what’s interesting about us as a species is that we can do that, and that’s how we move forward, how we create things, how we have ideas.” 

Those levels of risk may vary, whether it’s adding an extra mile onto your daily hike or being the first skiers to descend Polar Moon, the 1.2-kilometer couloir found at the vastly remote Kangiqtualuk Agguqti on Baffin Island, as Lustenberger and Brette Harrington were on their 2022 expedition. 

Hilaree Nelson (1972 – 2022)

For Nelson, the risks she undertook throughout the course of her career shaped her into one of the most prolific ski mountaineers of her time. She partook in over 40 expeditions, spanning 16 countries, skiing first descents such as Lhotse (27,940 ft.), where she skied from the summit in one of the most impressive ski expedition feats undertaken. 

Through taking such risks, Nelson set herself apart—and set the standard for a more inclusive way forward. While much of her travel and expeditions looked like being the sole women on board, Nelson’s example and excellence opened the opportunity for more women to participate in high-level adventure. It was in large part due to her influence that the 2022 trip to Baffin Island, an entirely female expedition, was possible. 

Nelson’s ethos can be applied to our everyday lives. What risk can we take to make our trails more accepting? What steps can we take to make our outdoor community more inclusive, more creative? With Nelson as a role model, it’s how we should all move forward.

Click here or on the image below to view the movie Earthside