Hall of Famer
Paul Mathews’ career as one of the ski industries most preeminent ski resort designers started in Whistler, B.C., but it is around the world that his vision has been fulfilled.
Born in Denver, Colo., and raised near the mountains of Loveland Pass, Paul and his childhood friends would ride up and walk down five times on the “Main Street” rope tow at Breckenridge in an effort to prepare the slopes for more enjoyable skiing. After his family relocated to Seattle when he was eight years old – skiing at the nearby at Snoqualmie Pass, was an “underwhelming ski experience” for Paul, after coming from the big mountains of Colorado.
While in Seattle, Paul saw a video in 1965 which set in motion a chain of events which shaped his future. The video, which showcased the gondola at Whistler prompted Paul and a friend to drive his small car up to Whistler – at the time a “rough drive”– to check it out. It was on that trip that Paul fell in love with Whistler.
After serving in the military during the Vietnam war (as an electronic warfare technician for A-6 A Intruders, on board the CVA-43 Coral Sea), and then finishing his studies with a degree in forest ecology at the University of Washington, Paul made the full-time move to Whistler and started on his vision of what became Ecosign.
Ecosign, inspired by a combination of the terms “ecological design” started local, first in Whistler, then to Hemlock Valley, B.C. in the Fraser Valley and Mt Washington on Vancouver Island. Paul’s motivation in the early years in Whistler was a displeasure on how the resort was being developed at the time … but he was fully confident in Whistler’s potential particularly with the two large mountains and five fresh water lakes set amongst an idyllic natural paradise.
“I wanted to design ski resorts but I also wanted them to be done sustainably, which took into consideration all elements of nature,” he explained. His design philosophy from day one was simple: “document the valuable natural resources and habitats and go around them; don’t take on the birds, bess and trees … so to speak.”
The Ecosign way has been to preserve the soil, water and forests, and thoroughly research the visitor’s experience, for example how much walking the average skier will tolerate, parking infrastructures and ease of access to amenities. Essentially, the whole resort experience.
Paul and his team then brought their efforts to Europe, as they became the mountain masterminds behind the merging of Zermatt’s five competing lift operators in 2002, which included preparing the master plan to develop a unified resort experience. Around the same time, he created resort designs and new visions for ski areas in Finland, Switzerland, Spain, Austria and France.
Paul’s refined vision included bringing some of the European-style hospitality to North American ski resorts. “Europeans typically don’t sell land; they keep the land in their families and operate a business on it – restaurants, shops, hotels, etcetera – and that is one of the reasons why the European ski experience is so great … and I wanted to bring that to Canada and the U.S.”
The work of Paul and Ecosign would go on to create designs for ski resorts across the globe, with hundreds of projects in 46 countries and six continents.
He was also responsible for the design of six Olympic venue sites – all of which had to be compatible with nature and the landscape. From location scouting and designing the resort of Rosa Khutor and mapping out competitive courses for Sochi 2014 to the Bokwang Phoenix Park Resort for PyeongChang 2018 to the creative designs for the Beijing 2022 snowsports competition venues, Paul and his Ecosign team revolutionized Olympic and World Championship arenas. All told, the Ecosign group has notched up six Olympic and three World Championships venue sites. And counting.
Paul was won many awards for his accomplishments towards sustainable resort design to enhance the snowsports experience and, at the same time, allow for continued business stability for ski resorts around the world. His vision that “man could live in harmony with nature” kept the focus on environmentally-sensitive planning and design to mountain resort areas.
With a compass, a chronometer, a measuring chain and an intuitive nature – combined with a deep sense of the natural surroundings – Paul Mathews changed how snowsports enthusiasts experience the mountains and ski resorts around the world.
“I wanted to design ski resorts but I also wanted them to be done sustainably, which took into consideration all elements of nature.”
Please Note: Copyright © 2022, Canadian Ski Museum & Hall of Fame. For personal or educational use only. All rights reserved.