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 8 of 10

The group paid $60-a-year to share one of the cabins, which became known as Toad Hall.

"There was fresh water coming down 16 Mile Creek, car batteries drove the tape decks for our music and we had kerosene lanterns and wood stoves for cooking," he added. "We lived without water and electricity and just skied every day. Then one morning in the Spring, after a big party night, someone said, 'Come on we're taking a group photo,' We used to go around naked sunbathing in May, so it was a nice mixture of boys and girls with ski gear and I'm captured, infamously, in that photo."

Look around Whistler Village today and Mathews' fingerprints are all over it, from the pedestrian stroll to the low-rise buildings, the underground parking and the way you can walk to the Blackcomb lifts without sweating up an icy hillside.

When Whistler was on the drawing board, Mathews was chair of the resort municipality's advisory planning commission at the "tender age of 27."

He worked with Al and Nancy Raine, who also believed in the European village concept.

"So during the design of Whistler Village there were huge knock-down battles between the developers and other council members and lawyers and economists," said Mathews. "The conventional wisdom was, 'There's no way this pedestrian village will work, you cannot afford underground parking and you need to build higher than three-and-a-half or four storeys," he said.

Since then, says former Intrawest Resort Operations Group president, Hugh Smythe, Mathews has repeatedly used his expertise to put his stamp on Whistler.

The first major project they worked on together was the $27 million Blackcomb expansion in the summer of 1987.

"That was the Wizard, Solar Coaster, 7th Heaven, the Glacier T-bar, Horstman Hut, the expansion of the mountaintop restaurant, the new base area, the day lodge at the bottom of the Wizard and the kids camp," said Smythe. "There was a lot of out-of-the-box thinking and that was a significant project that catapulted Blackcomb into one of the largest ski resorts in North America."

The resort's annual ski visits rocketed up from 325,000 to about 568,000, said Smythe.

"Because he has seen and been involved with more ski resorts than anybody, he's seen it all — the big ones, the small ones — and he's seen all the mistakes," added Smythe.

Roger McCarthy, a councillor for Resort Municipality of Whistler, worked with Mathews in Sochi.

"We flew round in big Mi-8 helicopters," said McCarthy. "Russia is like 'How the West Was Won.' You get conditioned to it. It's, 'He who has the most bodyguards, wins.'"

The former co-president of the Mountain Division at Vail Resorts has done 14 projects with Mathews, in Russia, France, Italy, the U.S. and Canada.

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