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 9 of 10

"I've worked with other planner-designers but they're not even close, in terms of understanding," said McCarthy. "He has an unbelievable staff too. The people who work with him are fricking brilliant."

McCarthy said one of Mathews' strengths is that he does more with fewer ski lifts.

"He can look at a piece of terrain and match the downhill capacity with the uphill capacity. In other words, you don't blow the brains out a terrain by 'over-lifting' it," said McCarthy.

Mathews understands "terrain pods" and where to put the top and the bottom of a lift, he added.

"That must seem like a fairly simple thing to figure out, but you can't believe the number of places that I've worked on where it's a complete disaster," said McCarthy. "They're places where the top of the lift was in the wrong place and the bottom was in a hole. Paul's relentless on his grading plans for the bottom and top of a lift."

It makes perfect economic sense, said McCarthy.

"You go and spend $7 million on a high-speed lift that will move 2,800 people-an-hour but, because either the load or the unload is screwed up, you can't get 2,800 people-per-hour on it," he said. "If there's 30 per cent that you're not getting, that's $2.5 million you could have taken out into the parking lot and burned. It's like giving somebody a Ferrari — just because you've got the money to write the cheque doesn't mean you know how to drive it."

McCarthy said designing a ski hill may look simple but there are many different factors to take into account.

"It's things like, how many restaurant seats do you need and how many outdoor seats, and how many days do they get used?" he said. "How many grooming machines do you need? What kind? How many winch-cats do you need, given how steep the terrain is?

"When you walk around with Paul, he'll give you a pretty good idea and then we'll go back and run the numbers, based on what the topographical maps and the terrain maps tell us."

McCarthy says Mathews doesn't suffer fools gladly.

"To give him credit, he's sometimes a little blunt," added McCarthy, a New Zealander who first met Mathews at a Soo Valley party in 1973. "He doesn't necessarily tell you what you want to hear but he'll tell you anyway."

That was exactly the situation in Mont Tremblant when Mathews told then-Intrawest CEO Joe Houssian, that he was going to have to spend $400,000 on drilling and blasting, to lower the village chairlift.

Mont Tremblant president, Patrice Malo, credits Mathews for turning the resort from a run-down money-loser in 1991 into a success story.


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