|Paul Mathews at Niseko United, Japan in March 2014 with Yotei San Volcano in the background|
Since 1975 Paul Mathews has been designing ski resorts all over the world, numbering in the 400s by 2015. In the course of his work he has met many world leaders including the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, President of Montenegro and the King of Spain, Juan Carlos, who offered to trade jobs with him for a winter season. “I declined saying that being a King was really too hard work; shaking hands and smiling at people you did not know and did not particularly care for,” says Mathews. “To which he laughed and said my job was definitely better than his.”
|Mt Washington Ski Resort|
|Whistler Blackcomb by Paul Morrison|
|Skiing right through the centre of Sun Peaks, designed by Paul Mathews with a Tyrolean motif - photo credit: Royce Sihlis|
The name Ecosign is actually a contraction of “ecological design”, Mathews explains: “Ecosign has become a world-wide reputable brand for mountain resort design.” However, his innovative ideas where honed by negative experiences at badly executed ski areas during his youth skiing in Washington State: “That led to interest later in life to undertake university studies in forest ecology and landscape architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle as the educational foundation needed to design good mountain resorts.”
|Nakiska Mountain Resort - photo credit: Devon Gamble|
Ecosign was responsible for identifying possible sites in readiness for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. “We ended up identifying seventeen different potential areas, narrowed that down to approximately three and finally, the Government of Alberta chose development of Nakiska at Mount Allan to host the Olympic Alpine Skiing events, the legacy training site and a commercially viable recreational ski area,” Mathews explains. “Nakiska at Mount Allan filled all of those goals and was built for $23 million and continues to host about 200,000 skier visits annually.” This work lead the Austrian lift company, Doppelmayr to recommend to Nippon Cable, Japan that they hire “Olympic Planners” which lead to Ecosign’s first job in Mount Zao, Japan in 1984. “We have since made plans for 34 areas in Japan including 13 new greenfield projects,” Mathews adds.
Next followed work preparing master plans for Swiss resorts in Laax, Arosa and Savognin which in turn led to assignments in Austria, Spain and France. “The company’s reputation and breadth of projects just grew organically, averaging about ten new projects per year plus of course taking care of a lot of existing customers,” says Mathews.
|Skiing beneath the heated Orange Bubble Express at Canyons|
Courtesy Canyons Resort
|Me skiing Canyons, Utah - photo credit: Simon Hudson|
During Mathews’ long career he has noticed three important technological improvements which have assisted ski area planning. “Detachable grip chairlifts, snowmaking systems and winch cats for grooming ski slopes have very substantially changed how we design ski resort,” he explains. “In fact, I was considered the first ‘early adaptor’ in seeing the tremendous potential benefits of detachable grip chairlifts and gondolas. Given rope speeds two to three times faster than conventional fixed grip lifts allows us to go two or three times longer distances for equivalent travel times and due to the carrier spacing allows us to go much higher verticals up to 800 or even 1,000 meters with existing wire rope construction methods. Winch cats allow grooming of steep slopes and snowmaking has improved tenfold from when I started in the business in efficiency and quality and quantity of snow.”
And the future for Ecosign when Mathews retires? There’s a transition plan in place whereby several senior VPs will team up with Mathews’ son and daughter to continue the lasting legacy.