NEDERLAND -- She was 6, standing on skis atop a black run along the right side of Eldora Mountain Resort, when she first saw the girls in their race suits and turned to her dad to ask who they were.
She was told they were ski racers. "Dad," she said, "I want to do that."
Bailey Kuechenmeister, now a senior at Nederland High School, has done that. And much more. Friday night, she was named the Colorado High School Ski League's girls Skimeister for the third season in a row. It's an award capping a season-long competition between skiers who compete in all four skiing disciplines: giant slalom, slalom, Nordic classic and Nordic skate. Essentially, it honors the top all-around skier in the state.
Kuechenmeister becomes the first girl in state history to be named Skimeister three times.
"There are days where I'm just tired and I want to go home," Kuechenmeister said Friday. "And I take AP classes and it's a lot of work keeping up with it, but it's really important to me that I just have fun with it all. I feel really good about coming out on top for three years in a row."
So how did she become perhaps the most decorated high school skier in Colorado history?
Well, for starters, her daycare teachers often remarked on her extraordinary amount of energy.
"Ever since she was a young girl, she had to just go, go, go," said Bailey's father, Dave. "She was so active."
She first strapped skis on at age 3. After she saw the girls in their race suits three years later, Kuechenmeister said, "It was this realization that there was something beyond free skiing."
"I wanted to be like them," Kuechenmeister said. "They looked cool. At 6 years old, you're like, 'Wow, that's pretty awesome.'"
So she joined a ski team at age 6.
"I still have a picture from when I didn't even have a race suit," Kuechenmeister said. "I had my blue and orange and yellow onesie snowsuit, and I just put my bib over that. (The picture is) sitting on the counter, and I'm just so far away from the gate. It's so cool to see how far I've come."
She eventually got one of those coveted race suits, and went on to train at Eldora for the next few years. She also had a one-year stint in Vail.
In high school, Kuechenmeister didn't immediately join the ski team, but did join the cross country and track teams. A year later, as a sophomore, she did ski for Nederland. That year, she also picked up the Nordic events for the first time.
"She just -- she had to go," Dave Kuechenmeister said. "She's a cross-country runner and she's just got this engine and she's just got to go."
In her first ever Nordic race, she finished ninth.
"I had no clue what I was doing in the first place," Kuechenmeister said. "It gave me motivation. I was like, 'I can actually do really well in Skimeister.'
"It always gave me something more to strive for past the individual competition, I had this big goal for the whole season."
Three years later, she is Nederland's captain and has something no other Colorado girl does: Three Skimeister awards.
Thursday, at the state skiing championships held at Eldora -- and hosted by Nederland High School -- she was 12th in the giant slalom. A few hours later, she was fourth in the Nordic classic. Friday, she was ninth in the slalom and 12th in the Nordic skate.
"Alpine is just short and fast and you're done in a minute. If you make a small mistake, you could be done for the day," Kuechenmeister said. "But in Nordic, it's long and it's a way more mental game -- for me, at least. (Apline) is still mentally really tough, keeping yourself calm, but Nordic is 20 minutes and you're in your own head. And you're just trying to push your body way past its limits.
"It's such a mental thing, because my legs get tired, I'm out of breath and I just want to give up and lay down in the snow."
Said Nederland's alpine coach Chantal Knapp: "She has great physical strength and mental toughness. Because it takes both to be able to endure skiing aggressively on the mountain, you know, fighting the forces of gravity, and yet going over to Nordic to use her engine. And it takes a certain disposition, somebody who can sustain and endure."
So perhaps it helps that Kuechenmeister has what amounts to year-round stamina. In the fall, she builds it up with cross country, it continues through the ski season in the winter and onto track in the spring.
She's always going.
"We have a week off between each season, and that week is the most boring week of my whole school year," Kuechenmeister said. "It's like I go home, I do my homework and I'm like, 'What do I do now?' I can watch TV, but I would rather be outside having fun, meeting people, being around my teammates. It's just not the same environment to go home and sit around."
She has plans to keep going after high school. Yes, that includes some form of athletics in college. She isn't sure yet of which sport, or where. Montana State, Colorado State and Colorado are all in the picture.
But Kuechenmeister also plans to focus her immense amount of energy on some type of pre-med major. That may be chemistry. All she knows is that she wants to end up a surgeon.
Friday, Kuechenmeister's high school skiing career wrapped up on the same mountain that sparked her start in racing, the same mountain that nurtured her talent during countless days spent training here.
When she crossed the finish during the slalom, a small cheering contingent converged on the senior. This was her town, her mountain, her moment.
It wasn't hard to imagine 6-year-old Bailey Kuechenmeister looking up at the girl she's become and whisper, "Wow, that's pretty awesome."