Olympic Touch: Paul Mathews

If you’ve been watching any of the 2014 Winter Olympics—and especially if you’ve caught some of the downhill skiing and snowboarding events—then you’ve almost certainly seen some of the vision and handiwork of Paul Mathews, who earned a bachelor’s in forest resources from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences back in 1974 (and also studied landscape architecture at UW for two years).

Paul Mathews

We caught up with Mathews, pictured here in Moscow, briefly over email last week. He’s been on a “dead run” in Europe since February 7, he says, and was most recently in Davos in the Swiss Alps.

As a student, Mathews worked with Professors Gordon Bradley and Grant Sharp and took classes with Barney Dowdle and David Scott. In particular, he was involved in a senior case study class, directed by Bradley, where he explored the feasibility of developing a ski area near Stevens Pass. That site never got developed, but Mathews was fine-tuning a talent and passion that he carries to this day: spotting and designing the perfect locations for ski areas. More importantly, though, he envisioned ski areas that would operate sustainably, were more efficient with their layout, and didn’t abuse their mountain landscapes.

In fact, shortly after finishing school, Mathews founded his own company, Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, with the purpose of providing environmentally sensitive planning and design for mountain resorts and ski areas. Among his many accolades, Mathews is known for having an uncanny eye for locating lifts and pistes, and his designs focus on avoiding stairs—the ultimate nemesis of ski boots—and keeping most accommodations and services within close proximity to the slopes (ditching your car after you arrive, and spending the rest of the time on skis or on foot). Since he set up operation in 1975 in Whistler, British Columbia, his team has directed the planning and design of more than 360 major mountain resort projects in 36 countries.

Rosa Khutor Alpine Ski Resort

View of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Ski Resort outside of Sochi.

One of those projects, as it happens, was the Rosa Khutor Alpine Ski Resort outside of Sochi, Russia, and the current host site of the Winter Olympics. Back in 2000, the Russian government had invited Mathews to explore the possibility of increasing winter tourism and creating an Olympic-quality ski resort in the Caucasus Mountains. While flying over the area in a plane, Mathews had spied the winning site and then helped design the mountain. Fourteen years later, the top winter athletes in the world are competing on those slopes.

If you’d like to learn more about Mathews and his design philosophy, he’s been profiled a few times recently, including great features in the Seattle Times and The Wall Street Journal. You can also tune in to watch some of the remaining ski coverage to get a firsthand look at the fruits of his work. Then again, there’s a good chance you’ve already visited or heard of a number of his other projects, including Whistler Blackcomb and Sun Peaks in Canada, or a redesign of Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah, a few years ago!

(Side note: The SEFS ski connections don’t end with Mathews. Another alumnus, Steve Rice, now works with a real estate investment trust that manages many of the major ski areas in the country. Rice, who was also one of Professor Bradley’s former students, happens to be friends with Mathews, too!)

Photo of Mathews in Moscow © Paul Mathews; photo of ski resort © Sochi 2014.

Grad Student Spotlight: John Simeone

Two summers ago in 2011, John Simeone was working on the summer crew at Pack Forest with Professor Greg Ettl. He was a first-year graduate student with the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), and he spent his daylight hours working on long-term site surveys, trail maintenance and other research projects. Simeone loved it.

“Pack Forest is a beautiful plot of land,” he says, and just about every weekend he’d hop over to Mount Rainier National Park to hike and camp.

That summer also fed another of Simeone’s outdoor passions: photography. He had picked up the hobby pretty seriously in high school, and he eventually even had his own black-and-white dark room. So with endless days deep in the woods, and faced with spectacular forest and mountain settings on all sides, he took scores of photos on his Nikon D60.

© John Simeone

John Simeone’s winning photo entry from Pack Forest, “Stand of Red Alders (Alnus rubra).”

Months later, while researching the new European Union Timber Regulation, Simeone stumbled across a photo contest with the European Forest Institute (EFI). For all of his years snapping pictures, Simeone had never submitted one of his images to a competition. But this time he decided to send one of his shots from Pack Forest. “It was a fluke, totally a whim,” he says.

EFI planned to select one photo to showcase for each month of 2013 as part of their 20th anniversary celebration. And last month, for February, they rewarded Simeone’s whim—and made his month—by featuring his entry: “Stand of Red Alders (Alnus rubra)!”

Photography, of course, is only a side pursuit for Simeone at the University of Washington. He grew up outside of New York City and attended Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and in 2010 he ventured to Seattle to begin working on a Master’s Degree at the Jackson School of International Studies (Russian Studies). A year later he made it a dual degree by adding forestry at SEFS.

The two fields—forestry and Russian—may seem like an unusual pairing, but for Simeone it’s a rather natural fit.

He first started studying the Russian language in high school, and after graduation he spent a gap year living in the small Russian city of Vladimir, about 115 miles northeast of Moscow. He was only 18 and 19 at the time, and the experience sealed his interest in the country and language. “It was amazing,” he says. “It made me fall in love with Russia.”

Simeone and Knight

Simeone with his fiancé Erika Knight in the North Cascades; a fellow SEFS graduate student, Knight is working on her MS with Professor Rob Harrison in the Forest Soils lab.

During the same time abroad, he began cultivating a deeper interest in forestry and conservation. “Russia contains a quarter of the world’s forests,” says Simeone, and the nation is opening up vast areas of virgin forest for logging—with a host of implications ranging from impacts on sensitive wildlife populations to natural resource management and trade policy.

As a graduate student, Simeone’s research interests now include the emerging markets in forest trade and production in the Russian Far East and Siberia, and the extension of trade to China. His faculty advisor at SEFS is Professor Sergey Rabotyagov, and he is also working closely with Professor Ivan Eastin and CINTRAFOR on Russia’s role in the timber trade. (He presented on some of his research at the Graduate Student Symposium a couple weeks ago on Friday, March 8.)

Simeone has been balancing his economic and trade studies with on-the-ground forestry training, including taking Professor David Ford’s silviculture class, Professor Jerry Franklin’s course on old-growth forest management, and the summer internship at Pack Forest. Though he’s not sure where he’ll end up career-wise, he says his “pie in the sky” dream would be to put his Russian and forestry background to work as a trade analyst with the United Nations, or possibly with the Forest Service in their international division.

In the meantime, he’ll be keeping his camera plenty busy, and you can check out some of his other great photography on his Picasa page!

(Also, Simeone recently co-authored a short photo essay on his summer travels to Vladivostok, Russia, for UW’s Ellison Center Winter 2013 Newsletter. Half of the photos are his, and the other half were taken by Taylor Zajicek’s, who is also working on his MA in Russian Studies.)

Photos courtesy of John Simeone.