Local resort planner honoured by CWSAA 

Ecosign's Don Murray recognized with Lifetime Achievement Award after 40 years in ski industry

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CANADA WEST SKI AREAS ASSOCIATION - Man with a plan Ecosign mountain planner Don Murray (left) was honoured last week with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA), presented by former CWSAA president Jimmie Spencer.
  • Photo courtesy of the Canada West Ski Areas Association
  • Man with a plan Ecosign mountain planner Don Murray (left) was honoured last week with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA), presented by former CWSAA president Jimmie Spencer.

When local resort planner Don Murray was tasked with designing the ski trails for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, he figured it would probably be his last time working at the Games.

Three decades later, and the senior VP of Whistler's Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners could not have been more wrong.

"At that time, we thought it was probably a one-off and we'd never do it again. But we've been involved now with (several) Olympics," said Murray, the 2017 recipient of Canada West Ski Areas Association's (CWSAA) Jimmie Spencer Lifetime Achievement Award.

Honoured at a gala in Lake Louise last week, Murray — only the third person to receive the award since it was first handed out in 2009 — was recognized for his more than 40 years in the industry.

"It's an incredible surprise and recognition," said Murray. "I never expected it and I'm in with some very good company, (2009 winner) Mr. Hugh Smythe and (2016 winner) Mr. Bob Dufour."

Murray has been involved in many different facets of the industry, beginning in the mid-'70s when Whistler Mountain's first GM, Jack Bright, offered him a choice of two resort jobs.

"I could have had a job driving a bus out of the Olympic lot, or I could drive a snowcat. You know which one I took? It wasn't the bus," Murray said.

His foray into resort design has included planning for major competitive events such as the 1996 World Championships at Sierra Nevada, the 1988, 2002, 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, as well as the upcoming 2018 and 2022 Olympics in South Korea and China, respectively. In all, his work has included mountain and base-area planning in 26 different countries, where, beyond design, he's also drafted master plans, feasibility studies, capital budgets and market forecasts for resort communities.

But it was a less high-profile project that Murray highlighted as his most important contribution to the industry: the Canada West Annual Economic Survey and Analysis, a document he's authored since 1987.

"It's used by the association to lobby government and other special interest groups and it also provides a very good benchmark for ski areas to compare themselves to their peers," Murray noted.

A Sea to Sky resident since the late '60s when his father purchased a farm in Pemberton, Murray credited the resort of Whistler for helping to push him onto his distinguished career path.

"Without the community and the opportunities that have been here — especially working at Whistler Mountain, which is really where I got my grounding — none of this would have happened," he said. "I might've done something else, working at a bank or as a construction worker or something like that. Not planning ski resorts."

Now, at the tender age of 67, have Murray's thoughts turned to retirement? Not quite.

"I'm having too much fun to stop," he said.

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