From vision to reality 

At the peak of their profession, Whistler's Ecosign designs the world's snowy playgrounds

  • Photo by Tom Bear for the wall street journal, courtesy of ecosign
  • Paul Mathews

Page 5 of 10

The final result was the Nakiska Resort at Mount Allan, less than an hour from downtown Calgary, which hosted the alpine events in 1988.

"It got built for $23 million and probably saved the Alberta Government $200 million," said Mathews. "Nakiska still works quite well. They get couple of hundred thousand ski visits per year."

In 2000, the Russian federal government hired Mathews to take a look at the Caucasus Mountains

"I did the very southernmost end of Russia and that led us to Sochi," he said. "We've also done Georgia on the south side of the Caucasus. We did Montenegro, the former Yugoslavia, and we did Serbia and we've done Norway."

Ecosign's research usually leads to a resort going ahead and that's often put out to public tender.

"If they make it qualification or experience-based, it gives us a good leg up on the local competitors," said Mathews. "Then you're into detailed design, what we call the master plan, for the ski lifts, ski runs, urbanism, roads and parking and right down to the landscaping."

Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, was one of Ecosign's more interesting contracts.

Mathews was hired by Boris Beresovsky, a wealthy business mogul and member of the Russian Duma, who flew him up and down the Caucusus in his private jet.

"We were just looking out of the window," Mathews remembered. "Simple as that. As we flew farther and farther I suddenly said, 'Wait a minute! Turn this plane around.' I could see what looked like some pretty good terrain there in the Krasnaya Polyana region."

Compared to the steep, ski-unfriendly crags and long, deep gullies he'd watched passing below, he saw an area with high plateaus, long, flowing runs, expert bowls and great snow. They landed at Sochi, a city graced with palm trees, perched on the coast of the Black Sea.

Mathews was soon in a world of armored limousines, armed bodyguards and was quickly rubbing shoulders with the Russian elite.

People like Russian President Vladimir Putin and oligarchs Vladimir Potanin and Mikhail Prokhorov who ran Norilsk, a massive nickel company, and wanted to build a resort at Rosa Khutor.

"Then in Febuary, '05, Potanin has a big press conference saying he's going to build this thing," Mathews recalled.

He attended the media bash, along with eight TV stations, 40 journalists and assembled ministers. Afterwards there was a reception on the top floor of Potanin's Interros company headquarters.

The president of the Russian Olympic Committee, Leonid Tiegochiv and legendary hockey defenceman Viacheslav Fetisov, the Russian Minister of Sport, were there.

"I was up there with a glass of Chablis, standing at one of those tall, round tables, with some canapés and whatnot and I saw them vectoring on my table and I thought, 'Uh-oh, this is going to be bad. Something's up if these two guys are coming to see me.'"


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