Ecosign goes for gold again 

From Calgary '88 to Beijing '22, the Whistler company has become the go-to Olympic snow sport venue designer

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALISON TAYLOR - Paul Mathews  roudly holds his book outlining the conceptual design for the snow cluster venues of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic bid.
  • Photo by Alison Taylor
  • Paul Mathews roudly holds his book outlining the conceptual design for the snow cluster venues of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic bid.

Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, the international firm that calls Whistler home, can add another Olympic feather to its cap — Beijing 2022.

It has designed the snow cluster venues for the Chinese Olympic bid to host the 2022 Winter Games. The International Olympic Commitee will make its decision this summer.

This is Ecosign's sixth Olympic foray, a journey which began in Calgary at the 1988 Games, followed by Salt Lake City in 2002, Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014 and currently Pyeongchang, Korea 2018.

It begs the question: what is it about Ecosign's designs that makes them Olympic worthy?

"They're logical," said president Paul Mathews simply. "They're affordable. And they meet all the specs of the international federations."

Take Ecosign's latest Chinese bid, which came out on top after submissions from two other international firms.

The snow cluster for the Beijing Games is set to take place close the city of Zhangjiakou, in Chongli County. It is a city of more than 4.7 million people, three hours by road from Beijing, one hour by the new high-speed rail line that is now under construction.

It is a place Mathews knows well.

Even before he started working on Beijing's winter bid, Ecosign has been in the area for the last five years. First, developing nearby Genting Secret Garden Ski Resort and then Taiwu Ski Resort, which is one year away from opening.

As cosmopolitan as the nearby city of millions is, the surrounding countryside is a throwback to 200 years ago; not much has changed in some of the small villages in the area.

People live in wattle and mud huts, there's no running water in places, little electricity, and the people have a subsistence living off the farming in the area.

"Yes, it's pretty rough," said Mathews.

But China sees a future here.

The director of Zhangkjiakou's bid office for the 2022 Winter Games, Zhang Chunsheng, told the South China Morning Post on Jan. 21: "Our ultimate goal is to develop Zhangjiakou into a world-class tourism destination, a Davos of the east."

That's good news for Mathews, who would like nothing more than to see the resorts he's designed there flourish.

"I'm a huge supporter of it because we've designed six or seven resorts (in China) that we want to become successful," he said. "So what better way to stimulate the winter sports market than hosting the Olympic winter Games?"

He has been pleased recently to hear success coming out of Sochi and Rosa Khutor this season, the first full season since the 2014 Olympic Games. Rosa Khutor was another snow sport cluster with Ecosign's mark all over it.

While the rouble has collapsed and that is likely encouraging homegrown tourism in the Russian Caucasus Mountains, Mathews is encouraged by the reportedly early success.

"It's good to know that the resort is being used," he said. "I was sort of worried about it, if they would follow through with the marketing and all that kind of stuff."

Like Sochi and Vancouver, the Beijing winter bid also spreads from the city up into the mountains. That not only allows cities with warmer climates to host a winter Games, but also accommodates the growing size of the winter Olympics.

"This is now trending like Vancouver and Sochi where you have multiple venues — ice down at the sea, or at the city, and snow up in the mountains," said Mathews.

The Winter Games have almost doubled since he began working on them in 1988.

In those Calgary Games, there we 48 competitions; in the last Games at Sochi there were 98.

"It's just gotten bigger and bigger," said Mathews. "So one venue to do it all? You're not going to see Lake Placid pull it off or even Lillehammer anymore."

He is referring to the locations for the 1980 and 1994 Games.

The snow cluster venues for the Beijing bid include a 3,000 person athletes' village (Whistler's village was designed for 2,600), a Nordic centre (roughly 35 per cent smaller than the Callaghan), and the 20 snowboard events will take place at Genting (there were 12 snowboard events on Cypress Mountain for the Vancouver Games).

The sliding centre and alpine events will take place at Yanqing, in between Beijing and Ghangjiakou.

"This is the conceptual design," said Mathews, holding aloft the bound book of plans, worth half a million dollars. "They need master plans. Design for construction is a whole other level of details and work. It's probably 10 times the cost too."

The snow cluster area gets an average snowfall of 100 cm.

Everything is on snowmaking said Mathews, adding: "It's cold as hell."

The beauty to this bid, which is up against just one other from Almaty, Kazakhstan, is its size.

"This is very compact, which is why this is going to win," said Mathews confidently.

A vote for the Beijing Games in 2022 would mean three back-to-back Asian Games

The bid, estimated at $32 million, is intent on repurposing some of the venues for the 2008 Summer Games — the Bird's Nest will be the site of the opening and closing ceremonies, the Water Cube home of curling.

In addition, the bulk of the hotel and transportation infrastructure is in place.

"I think their number is going to be fairly reasonable," said Mathews.

China is becoming increasingly important to the Whistler firm — Olympic work and otherwise.

When asked he if liked working there, Mathews said: "Sure. It was 60 per cent of our revenues the last two years. Are you kidding?"

Still, it's obvious that Whistler's bid, in which Ecosign played a significant role, still holds a special place in Mathews' heart.

The alpine venue for the Beijing bid is no Dave Murray Downhill. But then... could anything compare?"I'm a local. I've been skiing that run for 40 years, so maybe I'm just biased!"



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