Meet the man behind the design of Sun Peaks

Paul Matthews has played a key role in developing Sun Peaks.

WRITTEN by Louise Hudson

When visitors arrive in Sun Peaks, it’s often love at first sight. They marvel at the attractive Alpine architecture, the skiable streets, treed town trails, and the horseshoe of picturesque pistes.

The brainchild of the world’s top ski resort designer, none of this downhill design was by accident.

When Paul Mathews started planning Sun Peaks Resort back in 1992, he’d already honed his skills at Mount Washington, Whistler and several international ski areas. 

With an academic background in forest ecology and landscape architecture, he named his company Ecosign—a contraction of “ecological design.” As well as preserving soil, water and forests, Ecosign researched how much walking—especially uphill—the average skier will willingly tolerate. As a result, Mathews favours ramps over stairs in his resorts. 

Slope capacity is also taken into account as well as the difficulty level of runs and the carrying capacity of lifts. Ecosign is now able to use a software program detecting the best snow on the mountain and the warmest spots to construct restaurant patios.

Based in Whistler, Mathew’s magic touch helped put that resort at the forefront of ski tourism, contributing to the design of an extensive system of lifts and slopes for Whistler Mountain back in 1975 and Blackcomb since 1986. From there, Ecosign has handled over 500 resort development projects in 42 countries. 

“The company’s reputation and breadth of projects just grew organically, averaging about ten new projects per year, plus of course taking care of a lot of existing customers,” said Mathews.

Now notching up six Olympic venue sites, Ecosign was responsible for identifying locations for the 1988 Calgary Winter Games. The success of Nakiska as a venue, training site and resort led to Ecosign’s first job in Japan at Mount Zao in 1984. 

“We have since made plans for 34 areas in Japan including 13 new greenfield projects,” said Mathews. 

He was also responsible for location scouting and designing the resort of Rosa Khutor and mapping out competitive courses for Sochi 2014. Ecosign then planned Bokwang Phoenix Park Resort for PyeongChang 2018 and the creative company designed the snow cluster competition venues for the Beijing bid for the 2022 Games. As lead designer, Ecosign was responsible for the athletes’ villages, alpine skiing, freestyle ski and snowboard pistes, and Nordic venues for Beijing 2022.

Ecosign’s first foray into China was led by new president, Ryley Thiessen, at Changbaishan Four Season Resort where they created a comprehensive ski area, resort village, real estate and overall land use master plan in the north-eastern portion of the Province of Jilin. The company has since moved on to 21 other ski resort projects in China.

In the course of his widespread wintersports work, Mathews has met many world leaders including the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation and President of Montenegro. King of Spain, Juan Carlos, offered to trade jobs with him for a winter season. 

“I declined saying that being a king was really too hard work—shaking hands and smiling at people you didn’t know,” recounted Mathews. “To which he laughed and said my job was definitely better than his.”

In Europe, Mathews was the mountain mastermind behind the merging of Zermatt’s five competing lift operators in 2002, preparing plans to develop the newly unified resort. He solved visitor circulation and overall quality issues for Ruka Ski Center, Finland, and created master plans for Swiss, Spanish, Austrian and French resorts. A career coup was securing the contract in 2010 to re-design lift systems at Courchevel. The same year he redesigned Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah.

Back in Sun Peaks, a resort close to Mathews’ heart, he said development is progressing very well. 

“The future for Sun Peaks is slow, steady growth including the East Village and new lifts in West Bowl and the Gil’s area,” said Mathews. 

Owning a condo in Fireside Lodge, he’s a frequent visitor, tallying 20 days last season. As Director on the Sun Peaks Resort Corporation Board, he attends regular meetings but Sun Peaks is also a personal project.

“Sun Peaks is special as I’m an owner here, I have close personal friends, and we created a very unique resort in pretty remote B.C.”

And the future for Ecosign when Mathews retires? There’s a transition plan in place for senior VPs to take over the company to ensure a lasting legacy.