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Feature - Heroes, role models and twinkies

They draw on their experiences in long, productive lives to teach people the skills to slide down a mountain, and in this they find meaning


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In Regina, Saskatchewan, Doug Dixon was born.

In a toque, you might easily mistake Doug for being much closer to 55 than his 75 years. The set of his jaw, the close-clipped moustache, keen steely blue-grey eyes – all that’s missing is a white silk scarf to complete the dashing image of a World War II RAF fighter pilot.

Without his toque, snow-white fuzz – more space than hair – gives him an aura of serenity and adds a few years to the estimate. Either way, you’d want to card him to believe the truth.

Like any good teacher, Doug’s a quick learner himself. It didn’t take him long, roughnecking in the oilfields of West Texas after high school, to realize there were easier ways to make a living. Studying business at the University of Toronto isn’t necessarily one of them but it probably isn’t a bad place to discover talents and learn skills for one that is, so that’s what Doug did.

Universities are where people go to become educated, to learn new skills, to prepare for a satisfying life… and most importantly, to discover the true meaning of summer – summer jobs. It was a summer job that led Doug to Lake Louise and it was Lake Louise where he found his Sheila.

Now, Sheila was smarter than Doug. Sheila was a student at UBC. Anyone who’s had an opportunity to (a) spend a winter in Toronto and (b) spend a winter in Vancouver, understands the edge Sheila had on Doug. Coupled with the fact that Doug was a guy in the prime of life, the payoff of that summer job was obvious. Doug followed Sheila to Vancouver in much the same way a puppy will follow anyone who holds out the prospect of either feeding or petting him.

Mountains, I have observed, have one of two effects on people who grew up in a place like Regina. My mother-in-law, a prairie girl, finds mountains a rocky and foreboding and thoroughly appalling waste of potentially good farmland. Doug, on the other hand, took to mountains like junkies take to smack. In short order, Sheila had him settled into a job, raising a family and, most importantly, volunteering for the Grouse Mountain Ski Patrol. Women are smarter than men.

Within the subcultures of mountain culture, there is a friendly rift between ski patrollers and ski school teachers. I don’t understand it; I only report it. "I used to think ski instructors were such a bunch of turkeys," Doug himself admits. So it is all the more amazing Doug crossed the divide and became a teacher after volunteering 15 years on Ski Patrol.