From vision to reality 

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

click to flip through (2) PHOTO BY TOM BEAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, COURTESY OF ECOSIGN - Paul Mathews
  • Photo by Tom Bear for the wall street journal, courtesy of ecosign
  • Paul Mathews
 
 

Page 7 of 10

Born in 1947, Mathews grew up in Breckenridge, Colo.

He first strapped on the boards when he was four or five years old.

"It was delightful. There was a group of families and there was a little cabin there with a big, pot-bellied stove and a big pot of water on it, and every family just came in and dumped their hotdogs in," he remembered. "They ran us up on a rope tow and we all had to walk down to pack down that week's fresh snow, before we could go skiing."

A Vietnam War vet, Mathews studied forestry at the University of Washington and skied at Snoqualmie Pass and Stevens Pass.

"They were the most brutally implemented things you could imagine," he said. "Bulldozers tearing the landscape apart, no erosion control, the hillsides were just washed down into the parking lots."

Mathews hated what he saw and said he toyed with the idea of joining the Sierra Club or the World Wildlife Fund to block development of ski resorts.

"It was one of those gut decisions where you say, 'Do you want to be part of the solution or part of the problem?'" he added.

With guidance from his professor, Mathews turned towards learning the science of the mountains — things like wildlife, flora and fauna, "to understand those systems and what they can and cannot take." Then he added two years of landscape architecture to his program to learn design skills.

While ski-bumming around Europe in 1971, Mathews went to Chamonix and Zermatt.

"I was smitten," he admitted. I said, 'Look at these cool little towns with no traffic, it's such a special experience.' That left an indelible impression, there's no question, and I have been amongst many who've spread that gospel."

Around that time, he went to Whistler and that was the start of a four-decade relationship.

Mathews is part of the "Toad Hall" group of nude, hippie skiers, captured in the iconic, 1973 photograph that's been turned into a popular poster and graces many a Whistler living room wall.

"I was a student, so I couldn't draw unemployment but I was on the UIC ski team," Mathews explained. "There were 30 of us living at the north end of Green Lake in a place called Soo Valley. It was a logging camp and there was a main house with some rooms, a big kitchen and dining area and then there were 13 outlying cabins."

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