Opinion » Alta States

Speed Warrior – Tom Pro and the Vertical Imperative



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"I started ski coaching," he says. "Worked with the Lower Mainland zone kids." But his friends kept bugging him about this new straight-down-the-falline racing thing they were all into now. "My old downhill racing buddies — you know, Kent Wills and Terry Watts, those guys — wouldn't leave me alone. 'You gotta come out and try speedskiing,' they kept saying. 'It's simple — straight down the hill as fast as you can go. No turns, no jumps. Just speed. You're gonna love it.'" He sighs. "So I had no choice really. I had to give it a try..."

That 'try' catapulted Pro into a new racing career that would last until 1988. And it did, indeed, suit his talents. "My fastest recorded speed," he says proudly, "was 198.785 km/h." And he laughs. "I think Mark 'Straight-ahead Fred' Rowan and I are tied at that speed..."

If downhill racing is skiing's equivalent to Formula 1, then speedskiing fulfills the sport's dragster racing component. And it appeals to a very particular type of athlete. Interesting too. The very same Canadian guys who had earlier risked life and limb in Europe competing as independents on second-rate downhills (and who were, as we've already discussed, far crazier than their national-team counterparts) now became the ones to beat in this insanely-fast new sport. "For a while there, we Canadians ruled," says Pro. "We were all individuals, you know, but we worked better as a team than anyone else on the circuit." He lets another chuckle escape. "And we were popular too! I don't know exactly what it is about Canadians, but we were welcomed everywhere we went..."

Now before you imagine a well-financed campaign with coaches and technicians and masseurs and other expensive goodies, think again. This was as seat-of-the-pants racing as you can get. "By this point," says Pro, "we're all adults. Totally on our own. But we're having the time of our lives!"

Still, it wasn't always easy. "Just trucking our gear around was a major operation," explains Pro. "Checking in at the airport with our monster ski bags and stuff — that was a real chore..."

Lucky they had Whistlerite Kent Wills around. "He just had a way with the check-in ladies. He could talk them up like nobody's business. The result: we never paid for overweight baggage." And Tom laughs some more. "I remember arriving at the Geneva airport once and hearing that the American team had been forced to pay hundreds of dollars in excess baggage charges. That got us a bit nervous. But we had a pretty good strategy in those days — we'd even pick the attendant for Kent to chat up..." He stops again. Shakes his head. Shrugs. "And he didn't disappoint. I don't know how Kent managed it that day, but all our gear got on that plane for free."