Paul Mathews, President of Canadian company Ecosign, specialised in environmental sensitive planning and complex design of mountain resorts, in an interview for Focus News Agency. Mr Matthews had been the head of planning and design with Ecosign, since the company’s founding back in 1975, and has designed more than 360 major mountain resorts in more than 33 countries. Mr Matthews has gained considerable and vast experience and has a keen eye for determining the exact location and good planning of ski lifts and ski slopes in mountain areas. With his expertise and knowledge in the sphere of winter resort planning, Mr Matthews has made a detailed analysis and redesigning of several traditional Alpine resorts like Sölden, Zermatt, Courchevel, Davos, Arosa, and Verbier, which have as result improved their transport system and tourist traffic considerably.
Paul Matthews designed the entire master plan for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. He is a specialist in forest ecology and landscape architecture.
Focus: Mr Matthews, do ski resorts harm the environment in mountains? Paul Mathews: This is a maleficent statement. It is far better people to be in the mountain than far from it. Life amongst nature makes us healthier. Sports also contribute in this regard. I do not know a country in the world, which closes its mountains for visitors. The right means and conditions, which guarantee that in today’s world environment and sports go hand in hand, have been discovered long time ago. The International Olympic Committee is also very committed to the organisation of “green” Olympics. We have made projects in natural parks, in protected territories, and we have not had any environmental problems anywhere.
Focus: In Bulgaria, however, there is a strong resistance against the construction of new winter resorts. Paul Mathews: I can understand these people’s point of view, but they are just misled. I will give you an example with the French Alps, where years ago the rural areas in the mountains were almost desolated. Then the government felt that it needed to do something, as it could not have 50 million people living in Paris. They adopted a legislation, which started developing tourism. Not this is a wonderful and clean region, which gives employment to thousands of people. Especially after the Russians started going there. Sofia seems like a very nice city, but could you imagine if several million more people were to come to live here, what would you do? I am sure that you also have regions, where the population is finding it tough to survive. There should be employment for the youth, who should see future and prosperity in the places they live.
Focus: But there is a mountain near Sofia, too. Paul Mathews: Yes, there is. Rila is a very beautiful mountain.
Focus: I had in mind Vitosha. Paul Mathews: I do not want to talk about Vitosha. You might not believe me, but I would like to set on fire everything in Vitosha. This is a shame for Bulgaria, and for Europe. It would be better to forget about Vitosha for the time being.
Focus: The problem is ecological there, after all. Paul Mathews: There is no ecological problem in Vitosha. How does a skier harm the environment? They ski two metres above the ground – on the show. A lift pole is constructed on a fundament, which is not very big. How will this harm the environment?
Focus: By pouring concrete in the mountain. Paul Mathews: Why would that be? We are talking about sports facilities. I have never seen a ski slope of concrete anywhere in the world. Not even in Bulgaria.
Focus: Yes, but we are talking about natural parks. Paul Mathews: Is Whistler [a mountain in British Columbia, Canada] a bare hill? It is also a natural park. There are so many ski slopes in protected territories around the world. Furthermore, there are technologies, thanks to which photovoltaic panels are installed on top of the cabins and they produce the energy, required for the moving of the lifts. This guarantees even stronger protection to the environment.
Focus: Which Bulgarian mountains have you visited? Paul Mathews: Rila, Pirin, and Vitosha. Your forest is very beautiful, and young. But as a person, who has studied forest ecology, I can tell you that in ten years you will have a very serious problem with your forests, if you do not start doing something about it.
Focus: What do you mean? Paul Mathews: You lack sanitation cuttings and maintenance. This means that the insects will come soon. After that come the fires. The world is currently fighting against carbon dioxide emissions. Some of the biggest emissions of carbon monoxide are result of forest fires. Because, when you cut a tree, which has already been damaged and is as good as lost, and you make a house from it, for example, you close the carbon dioxide within it. This is a simple solution. That is why you need to start sanitation cuttings.
Focus: Which university did you graduate from? A phony one? Paul Mathews: I graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle. We are always breathing in the neck of Yale. And we play a lot better [American] football than them. For us we will always be number one.
Focus: I asked you this question, because an ecology expert in Bulgaria has always claimed that nature knows what it has to do, and it must be left alone. Paul Mathews: This is quite strange. Especially when it comes from the mouth of an expert, as you say. The global practices show totally different things. When you leave nature to itself, all you need is someone to build a fire next to the fallen trees, and the entire carbon dioxide will go in the atmosphere. I doubt that an ecology expert can say something like that. Now look, a very good resort can be constructed in Vitosha, with a lot less installations thant the existing ones.
Focus: What is the global practice about winter resorts? Who owns the land there? Paul Mathews: Predominantly the states, as we are talking about parks. There are also some owned by municipalities. There are, of course, reasons for that. First of all, it is much more convenient for the business, because if it is private this would mean a lot more responsibilities. There will be trials in court after each accident. It is one thing to sue a company and a completely different thing suing the state. Most people just collect the money from their insurance and leave it at that. Another benefit for state ownership is if the investor goes bankrupt, you just find a new one and continue. You end the concession and are ready to make the next step. Otherwise, you could end up with a monument, which is no good for anything.
Focus: Is there any European specificity in creating new resorts? Paul Mathews: No. The only difference between Europe and North America is that here first came the cities and then the resorts, while back home it is the other way round. This leads to certain problems emerging for Europeans.
Focus: Is there a country, which limits the use of a mountain? Paul Mathews: There is no such country in the world. I personally could not imagine my life without mountains; or the lives of my two children. They grew up in the mountain and that made them become wonderful people. Their lives, their friends are in the mountains. Everything is real in the mountains. There are no computers, no fictitious worlds. The mountain is something unique, beautiful, and real.