In the Field
Micke af Ekenstam
Tom Prochazka speaks several languages – English, Czech, and passable German. Still, he’s most fluent in “flow” — a lingua franca that transcends barriers, builds bridges, and has helped turn a rogue backwoods practice into a global community.
Prochazka is one of the critical shapers of lift-assisted mountain biking. At 68, 17 years after spinning it off from under the umbrella of Whistler Blackcomb, he and his colleagues at Gravity Logic are as busy as ever, designing mountain bike parks worldwide. The current count is around 40 bike parks and trail centres in a dozen countries. Last year, they had ten projects on the go at one time.
But Prochazka has always been inclusive — and bold, asking, “What about the kids? What about the women?”
“The Whistler Bike Park is successful because everybody can ride it. Most of us wanted to ride extreme trails, but it must be welcoming to everyone.” Instead of thinking of mountain biking as an elite secret fraternity, Gravity Logic and the Whistler Mountain Bike Park drew inspiration from skiing, the business they knew best.
Prochazka, a retired World Cup speed skier, moved to Whistler in the early 90s with his wife Claire and newborn son. He shifted gears from chasing the circuit and stockbroking or fishing all summer to settling somewhere he could raise a family. He ran a small sawmill, coached skiing, and rode one of the first full-suspension mountain bikes, having already spent ten years exploring the infamous Vancouver North Shore on rigid bikes.
When Whistler Blackcomb was looking for a new bike park manager, they tapped Prochazka for the job. He played this role for seven seasons before Gravity Logic spun off into an independently-owned park design company. He took what they’d learned to “grow the flow” and advised other resorts to turn their ski runs into mountain bike parks.
While many hours are logged on his laptop, Prochaska is a boots-on-the-ground worker, often standing beside an excavator operator, translating his understanding of dirt, lines and flow into a common language. “I’ve got pretty heavy-duty boots. It’s a lot of walking in the bush and looking for terrain you can build through. By the time I do a conceptual map, I’ve walked every square metre of a hill.”
Whether it’s his family, his Czech roots, or all that time reading dirt through the soles of his feet, Tom Prochazka is one of the most down-to-earth legends in Whistler and the global mountain bike community.
There’s some community-builder gene baked into his DNA. A casual snowmobiling outing will become a 20-person party – Prochazka welcomes everyone and their mother, girlfriend, or son. He gathers people around him like he is the campfire, a kind of radiant energy source, handing out the beer (he always has more than he needs in the truck) and cajoling people into being part of something bigger than themselves.
Prochazka happened to be in Whistler in a pioneering moment for mountain biking. “There was no pushback, nothing was impossible, everyone was enthusiastic,” he recalls. He was the right guy in the right place at the right time.
But I can’t help but think that his way of being in the world helped shape what would come in mountain biking. Generous-hearted, inclusive, and able to get potential adversaries on his side, he’s won over liability lawyers, European farmers and hunters, Italian backhoe operators, and US government hydrologists – because he treats everyone with genuine interest, puts effort into relationships, and doesn’t squander trust. “You build trust by building something that makes people go ‘Wow!’”