Lend a hand to Toad
April 2, 2003
It wasn’t easy talking with Todd “Toad” Olson this week.
The legendary Buttermilk kids’ ski school instructor is in a special hospital room at the Stanford Hospital and Clinic in California, battling Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, or CML, a slowly progressing cancer that affects the body’s white blood cells.
He’s just been through nearly three weeks of chemotherapy. As he casually put it, he was suffering from “chemo head” and was trying to chase the “bad cooties” from his body.
No, it wasn’t real easy talking with Toad, but it was still fun, despite the circumstances.
His sense of humor, finely honed after entertaining young kids on the slopes of Buttermilk for 33 years, still shined through as he spoke.
It was clear that all 51-year-old Toad wants to do is get back to teaching kids to ski. He wants to connect with some 8-year-olds on a chairlift, so they can go happily look for Big Foot’s cousin, “Big Face,” in the trees at Buttermilk.
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He wants to get back to Bumps restaurant with a gang of whippersnappers, so he can bust out the fake boogers at just the right moment. He wants to watch his young charges progress from nearly helpless skiers to confident little speedsters, making good choices about terrain and snow quality.
Toad is one of those people in this community who is totally dedicated to what they do, and, as a river guide in the summer and ski instructor in the winter, he has positively influenced thousands of lives over the last three decades.
Being a kids’ instructor at Buttermilk may not be viewed by some as a high-profile position. But ask any parent whose children have skied with Toad how important the job is. Ask them how comforting it is when Toad takes a moment to talk with them about their child’s state of mind and then lets them know where the class will be for lunch.
Ask them if they hope Toad comes back soon.
Many community members admire people like Toad, but few go out of their way to say how they feel until there is an accident, an illness or worse.
Since Toad left Buttermilk in February, he’s heard from quite a few people how much they appreciate his genius, his patience, his dedication to kids and his twisted sense of humor. But there’s room for more people to tell him how he’s touched their lives or their children’s lives.
This has been an unusually rough year for the Ski Schools of Aspen. Longtime instructor Rudi Netzer died of cancer in October, Chuck Carlson succumbed in January and Snowmass snowboard pro Eric Smith lost his battle with cancer in February.
Toad Olson is still fighting and may yet survive. Every little bit of encouragement helps.
He’s getting mail in care of Stanford Hospital, F/GR 37, Stanford, CA 94305, and there is a fund-raising party in his honor at Buttermilk April 10, which will include lots of stuff for both parents and kids to do.
If you can make the party, great. If you can send Toad a note, great.
But if you can also take a moment to think about people you admire in this community – people who quietly get the job done – and let them know you appreciate them, then even better.