Hometown: Nelson, British Columbia
Occupation: Land Surveyor
Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, in 1951, Bill Sproul moved to Nelson when he was 11 years old and never found a reason to leave. Over the last 50 years, Sproul has held nearly every skiing job available in interior Bc—ski instructor, patroller, heli ski guide, and ski shop owner. He was also part of the original crew that helped develop Whitewater Ski Area, even getting a run named after himself: Sproulers, powder-filled glades on the edge of the mountain.
“He was kind of like a father figure for this local ski scene,” says Bill Heath, a Nelson-based ski cinematographer who featured several shots of Sproul in his cult classic movie, Ski Your Ass Off. “He was always very generous with his time teaching people how to ski. He’s still like that. Young or old, he just wants to help people enjoy skiing.”
These days, Sproul can be found on the hill skiing every day from 9 till noon, getting back to the office in the afternoon to work as a self-employed land surveyor.
I took a liking to a girl that lived just up the street. She was a skier. I had never skied. I was a hockey player from Saskatchewan. We went to Silver King, a ski hill outside Nelson. She takes off down the main run and is gone in an instant. I’m left at the top looking around thinking, How do I even turn? After negotiating my way to the bottom, I came around the last corner giving myself a pat on the back when lo and behold there was a fallen log across the trail. I had three choices: Try and figure out how to turn, try and figure out how to stop, or eat the log. But I found a fourth alternative. I dove over the log and ended up in a big pile of wreckage in the trees. When I collected myself, I had a big grin on my face and powder everywhere and thought, ‘That’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.’
Being a broke student finishing high school and going to university, I needed a way to feed my habit, so I became a ski instructor and worked on the ski patrol.
When I got a break from instructing, I would sneak off and go to a secret stash I had that was out of bounds. Even a week or two after a good snowfall, I could always find some fresh stashes. I would always come back with powder in my beard, and all the guys would say, ‘Oh, Sprouler’s been in heaven again.’
I wonder about the same thing today that I did growing up: How to make some money? I’ve had a great life, but it’d be nice to have some money in the bank when a guy retires.
Don’t lose track of why you ski. Don’t get wrapped up in all of the hype. Ski for the reason that you ski. For the freedom and the ability to access nature, and the face shots. All your problems disappear as soon as you click into your skis.
I’m a grandpa now, and I’m skiing with grandkids, so that’s the next big challenge. It’s getting that next generation out and growing up skiing. It was amazing to take my kids into terrain that I used to work in, and show them what that whole lifestyle is all about.
I never expected to be skiing this long. My dad was an engineer, and the old school mentality was you go to university and you get your university degree and education. It was kind of expected that I would be an engineer and continue on that line. At 17 years old, I discovered skiing and that was the end of that.