`Toad’ Olson dies at 51
Aspen Times Staff Writer
“Toad’s Road” will be a lonely one this ski season.
Todd “Toad” Olson, a beloved Buttermilk ski instructor for nearly 33 years, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 51.
He passed away at his home in Carbondale, surrounded by loved ones, friends say.
Olson may have started out in Aspen as a waiter, but “Toad” quickly found fame as a children’s ski instructor. He joined the Buttermilk force in 1970, returning every winter until February of this year, when his illness forced an early retirement.
Co-workers note that, until his retirement, the children – and, in a few cases, grandchildren – of Olson’s former students are turning up for lessons.
“He brought so much fun to teaching,” said friend Andy Hanson.
Olson’s love of the children’s ski school was contagious. He even convinced Hanson, now kids’ ski school coordinator at Buttermilk, to switch from adult instruction.
“Nobody was better at teaching young instructors how to have a good time with kids,” Hanson said. “He was the master teacher of all the kids’ pros, not just at Buttermilk, but almost all over town.”
There was never any downtime during a Toad class.
“He taught everybody how to take the busy lunch hour, when kids are just full of energy and wanting to get outside again, and entertain them for 45 minutes,” he said. “He should have written a book – he had entertainment of children down.”
Olson knew how to keep his audience happy, often calling on an arsenal of rubber replicas – fake food, boogers, dog poo, vomit, anything with a high giggle factor – during ski lessons. He also had a hefty supply of stories, and frequently told the tale of “Big Face,” Big Foot’s Buttermilk-dwelling cousin, to the children in his classes.
Another celebrated Olson invention was known as “Weenies in Space.” The trick involved a dead fly, a small piece of hot dog and a bottle rocket, all launched into space by his students after a successful day on the slopes.
Hot dogs were a favorite tool for Toad, Hanson said. If he couldn’t use them with his students, he’d stuff small pieces in a pair of neglected gloves – a little surprise for his co-workers once they got on the ski lift.
Olson was a “combination of craziness and gentleness” that spoke to children and their families, said Weems Westfeldt, director of operations at the Ski and Snowboard Schools of Aspen.
“He cast a spell over children,” Westfeldt said.
The “Toad” spell spread throughout the ski school, touching both students and instructors.
“I think that Toad was kind of a ringleader in creating this kind of magic atmosphere,” Westfeldt said. “He was a center of gravity for the school. Toad had a special touch.”
Olson will be honored at a private memorial service later this week, and friends are planning a public memorial for late summer.
[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
“Art Harvest,” a mixed-media show, will open at the Aspen Chapel Gallery with a reception for the artists from 4 to 7 p.m. on Aug. 26.
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