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.