Opinion » Alta States

Going Royal

Toulouse Spence and the heirs apparent

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You're the boss, replied Spence, and took up paint and brush. "For the whole first act, I got to decorate her torso," he says. He stops. Can't hold back the laughter. "Well, you know me. I got right into it. Right into the painter part. You know, the whole artsy bit — holding up my thumb and admiring my work, that kind of stuff." And the crowd, he says, ate it up. "Yeah, I guess it must have looked pretty funny..."

His friends were still clapping by the time he got back to their table. "One of my buddies said: 'You looked just like Toulouse Lautrec painting dancers at the Moulin Rouge... just like him, only you were painting strippers at the New Ontario Bar.' And everybody agreed." Another long pause. "So the name stuck."

Right then. Another mystery solved. And his brush with royalty? Well, it was much more than a brush to be honest. And like so much in Toulouse's life it was all about being at the right place at the right time. "Greg Lee was originally supposed to be the go-to guy on that job," he reminds me. "I was just going to be his wing-man." See what I mean? When it comes to seizing opportunities, the guy has horseshoes up his... well, you get the idea.

He smiles. "You're right," he says. "I have been lucky." But it has to do with a lot more than luck. And the story of his transition from national team coach to ski-instructor-to-the-stars is a case in point. "It wasn't easy leaving the national team," he says of his departure in 1993. But he and his wife Ann had two kids now and a busy B&B to manage. He'd invested 14 good years in the Canadian downhill program. "It was time for me to stay home and get to know Whistler again," he says.

He ran the race department at Blackcomb for a while. "I worked for Steve Podborski during the winter of 1994," he says. "I put on ski races for people." But it wasn't a good fit. In fact, it wasn't until he joined the ski school the next year that he truly felt he'd found his place. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me," he insists. "It was so much fun. No more bamboo. No more setting up nets. No more digging out starts. All I had to do was take people skiing." He laughs. "And that was easy."