We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
– George Bernard Shaw
Everyone knows Toulouse. He's the little naked guy with the long skis and the huge grin in the infamous Toad Hall poster. The unflappable start coach and masseur who mentored two generations of Canadian downhillers on the World Cup circuit. He's the ski instructor who so successfully guided and entertained Prince Charlie and his two boys during their Whistler visit. The silver-haired hipster who astounds everyone at yoga class with his flexibility and good-natured jibes. He's an icon. A legend. A Whistler elder who redefines the term "senior" every time he steps out his door.
But does anyone really know Toulouse? His wife, Ann probably does. And his two grown kids — Nikolas and Mariah — most likely have a sense of the man behind the smile. But for the rest of us, he remains a bit of an enigma. I've known Terry Spence for nearly 40 years. Not well, mind you, but our paths have crossed and entwined frequently over the last few decades. And yet I've never been able to find out exactly who resides behind that perpetually happy grin. So I thought I'd dig a little deeper.
"Me? You want to do a story about me?" He laughed. Dismissed the proposal. "You already wrote about me and Speedie and how the Toad Hall poster came together," he said. "Surely, there are others who deserve to be profiled." And then he listed half a dozen Whistler characters that he thought had more important stories to tell.
But I stuck to my guns. I wanted to put all the different segments of Spence's Zelig-like life together. Wanted to understand how a typewriter salesman working in southern Ontario in the late 1960s ended up living in an unheated logger's shack in the heart of B.C.'s Coast Mountains with a posse of ski-crazy hippies; how a Whistler ski bum with no prior racing experience became one of Alpine Canada's most effective sports motivators; how a relative newcomer to ski instruction was picked for the most high-profile job the WB Ski School ever handled. The guy was a magician. I was convinced of that. And I wanted to find the source of his magic.
"I grew up in northwestern Ontario," he begins, "in a place called Fort William — now part of Thunder Bay." He smiles. "It was a small community back then. But there was a really positive spirit in that town. People were passionate about sports and the outdoors — even in those days." He pauses. Laughs. "The Elks ran the Peewee hockey program, and we had three or four ski hills to choose from. Loch Lomond Ski Club was the best..."
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