Opinion » Alta States

Going Royal

Toulouse Spence and the heirs apparent

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He says the job brought out the best in him. "I really blossomed there. As an individual and a ski instructor. I developed my own clientele... and just went for it."

The mid '90's was a time of unprecedented growth in the Whistler Valley. "Both Whistler and Blackcomb were going off," he remembers. "The economy was great, the village was bustling and, more importantly, people had money to spend!"

By the winter of 1998 (and the amalgamation of the two mountains) Toulouse Spence was a much-in-demand WB instructor with clients from Hong Kong to California. That's when his buddy Greg Lee came up with an offer he couldn't refuse.

"Greg was pretty tight with the Weston family," recounts Toulouse. "And the Westons were official hosts to Prince Charles and his sons during their 1998 trip to Canada. So when they went looking for somebody to guide the Royals at Whistler, Greg was the obvious choice. I was just there for backup..."

Ah, but royal politics are never simple. "Greg didn't work for the ski school," explains Toulouse. "And senior management at WB decided that it would be more appropriate for a certified ski instructor to do the job." So Lee was punted off the program and Spence was asked to take over. "There were other instructors with the Royals as well," he adds. Just not with Toulouse's chutzpah... or experience.

"What a trip," he says. "Just getting a handle on the proper protocol on how to address them was a handful." He stops talking; takes a quick breath. "You know," he resumes in a reflective tone. "For all the royal hoopla, and the security, and all the crazy etiquette they had to follow, well, they were just like you and me. Ordinary people. They just wanted to go skiing and have fun together."

It was Prince Charles, he adds, who most impressed him. "The European press portray him as such a stuffed shirt, you know. Bu he's not. I found him genial, affable — and totally approachable. On he hill, standing in the liftline, people would address him all the time; ask him all sorts of questions. And he was so patient with them. He's a real gentleman." He lets a beat go by. "And he really loves to ski. Aside from his rear-entry boots, he was a pretty good skier too..."

Toulouse turned 70 earlier this year. I know. Doesn't look a day over 50. Fit and strong and still a keen on skiing as he was 40 years ago when he first arrived here — though he admits back-to-back injuries these last two ski seasons have set him back some — Spence leads the kind of outdoor-focused life that most of us can only aspire to. He's a living, breathing illustration of a new, more grown-up Whistler.