Who the Flach?
Catching up with ByWOM owner John Flach
“You should interview John Flach,” someone told me. “He doesn’t talk much, so I don’t know much about him.”
It’s true: Flach is not a man of many words. He agreed to an interview in his quiet way and preferred to give one to three-word answers. “Can you expand on that?” I asked at one point after a short answer. “No, I’ve already talked too much,” he quipped with a grin. His wife, Pam, walked by and chuckled at the exchange.
Born and raised on a farm in Wisconsin, he said he’s been a Green Bay Packers fan for 55 years.
The farm dealt in cattle and hay. “Sold some cattle; ate the rest. That’s where I learned to cut meat,” Flach said. He was sent to visit his Uncle Oly Wilson when he was 15 years old. Wilson worked in Yellowstone in the summers as a bartender at Old Faithful Inn and started working in Big Sky at Chet’s in 1974.
“My parents got divorced and [mom] felt guilty so she sent us out to Montana to go skiing for a week, even though we had never been skiing before,” he said.
At that impressionable age Flach learned to ski via lessons from legendary Big Sky local Bo Michael Hayes.
“He helped me with alpine skiing and also taught me how to Telemark as well,” he said. “Telemarking was miserable in corduroys. The gear wasn’t there yet – you’d just wear old pants and wool. Gore-Tex was just coming out, but it was so expensive hardly anybody had it.”
Those adventures lead to a realization for Flach: Big Sky would one day be his home. He would move as soon as he could. That ended up being in 1981 to work with his uncle at Big Sky Resort. In keeping with the tradition of teaching greenhorns how to ski down the hill, Flach was a part of the core crew who taught eventual dirtbag king Brian “Rumby” Rumbaugh how to ski.
In addition to skiing, Flach’s life is full of a slew of other outdoor interests: mountain biking, bird watching and hunting.
“I just like being out in the woods,” he said.
Flach got his first mountain bike in 1983, when he was 20 years old, and was a catalyst in starting the Lone Peak Composite Team, a youth mountain biking group started in Big Sky. His kids now enjoy the sport.
His grandmother was a birdwatcher. According to his wife and children he has an exceptional bird identification ability. He said he’s skilled at identification by sight, but might become more skilled at identification via song, “when I get old.” He passed the birdwatching torch down to his daughter, Emma Flach, who is basing her Community, Action, Service project in school on bluebirds.
As for hunting, Flach’s father taught him how to hunt “waterfowls, pheasants and deer.” He believes he got his first deer when he was about 15 years old – a good year for him with regard to outdoor pursuits. Now he hunts and studies elk so much that his daughter describes him as an elk – he knows them so well.
“Hunting is my conservation. Even though most non-hunters think hunters aren’t conservationists, we pay for most conservation efforts across the nation,” he said, pointing out how hunters bolster the economy by purchasing permits, etc.
Flach used to be more into river excursions but cooled off after he hit the pinnacle about 12 years ago. “I put-in a permit to float the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. It took almost 20 years for it to go through – I finally got invited,” he said describing himself as “just a ski bum” now.
He and his wife have owned ByWOM for the past 24 years, and he can’t imagine his life any other way, or raising his children in any other place.