The local ski “fixture” known as Loulou, a Frenchman who sometimes used his accent and who brought an actual magic-carpet ride to Spokane, has died. He was 78.
Louis “Loulou” Kneubuhler died Sunday. It ended a love affair with skiing that Loulou passed on to scores of local skiers through his knowledge, coaching, mentoring and sales at his former downtown Spokane ski shop.
“This guy touched thousands and thousands of people in the Northwest and the world through skiing,” said friend and former colleague, Jeff Wordell. “He was an absolute magician on skis. This is one of the greats in and for this area.”
Kneubuhler was born in 1943 in the French Alps. He could ski at 100 places within an 80-mile radius of his home, according to newspaper archives.
In the 1960s, “Loulou” was touring English-speaking countries and decided to winter in Spout Springs, near Pendleton, Oregon.
Louis “Loulou” Kneubuhler poses for a photo in 2008. (RAJAH BOSE The Spokesman-Review)
“It was nothing to write home about,” he said of Spout Springs in 2008. “But the people were so nice, all these cowboys and farmers. We had the time of our lives so I said we have to come back for another year.”
The next winter, Kneubuhler coached at White Pass near Yakima. Among his pupils were twin brothers, Phil and Steve Mahre, who went on to win Olympic medals and are considered among the best American skiers of all time.
“I got to Spokane in ’68-’69; it was the biggest winter ever on record,” Kneubuhler said in 2008. “I thought I had died and gone to the big snowflake in the sky.”
Loulou then started coaching with the Spokane Ski Racing Association, but his legacy was cemented when in 1973 he opened Loulou’s of Spokane, Ltd. on East Pacific Avenue.
Kneubuhler combined the knowledge and passion of skiing and turned that into a successful business.
His biggest addition came in 1978 when he brought in Magic Mountain, which essentially was a conveyor belt covered with carpet. The conveyor could change altitudes and allowed anyone to ski at his shop.
The Mahre twins, 1983 World Cup champion Tamara Mckinney and the late snowboarder champion Craig Kelly, all reportedly honed their techniques with Loulou on his magic carpet ride.
Bob Legasa, of Hayden, said he remembers spending time on Magic Mountain in the early 1980s.
“It was a great training exercise and teaching tool,” Legasa said. “We used it for training freestyle skiing.”
Legasa was named in 1984-85 to the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team. He later joined the Volvo Ski Show and performed aerial acrobatics at ski resorts throughout the world.
“As an up-and-comer skier, I went there to train,” Legasa said of Loulou’s shop. “He helped put skiing on the map in this area, making it a lifestyle sport for people of the Inland Northwest.”
When Jeff Wordell needed a job in the winter of 1982, he asked Loulou.
“It changed me forever, just because Loulou became a person in my life,” Wordell said. “He was a father figure. He parented me.”
But he guarded his business. The Frenchman would speak perfect English to co-workers, but the thick French accent would return for strangers or to make a sale.
“In 1983, I was helping set up a wind-surfer display at a store. I told him I’d like to get into the ski business,” Wordell said. “He looked at me and said, ‘You will have to leave town.’ Loulou was the competition.”
After leaving the ski shop, Wordell built a career in finance. But in 2004, while looking for new office space, his path again led to Loulou. The former boss offered a Victorian house to Wordell to use as an office.
After a divorce, Loulou then allowed Wordell to convert the office into a home.
“He went above and beyond and, in essence, adopted my children and was a cornerstone in one of the toughest times in my life,” he said.
Later when Wordell’s job forced him to move from Spokane, Justin and Linda Moody entered Kneubuhler’s life. And, for the last nine years the Moodys helped take care of Loulou, and his longtime partner, Alette A. Mohr.
She died on Jan. 20, 2021, at the age of 91.
“Although they never did marry, you never saw one without the other,” Wordell said.
Beyond the relationships, coaching, ski tips and sales, the Frenchman from the Alps also spearheaded other projects, including the longest gondola in North America at Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg. He was also an original board member of Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park.
But it all started at the ski shop and Magic Mountain, Legasa said.
“He knew what it took to make his store a legitimate ski-purchasing experience,” he said. “It helped build up skier and snowboarding interest. He was able to promote the sport through his knowledge and expertise.
“Everybody knew Loulou,” Legasa continued. “If you skied and mentioned his name, they knew who you were talking about. His name was synonymous with skiing.”
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