NISEKO United is in need of a ‘mountain master plan’ to reach its full potential, according to a world-renowned, Whistler-based mountain resort planner.
Paul Mathews is founder and president of Ecosign, which since 1975 has directed the planning and design of more than 350 major mountain resort projects in over 32 countries, including Whistler-Blackcomb’s record-setting Peak 2 Peak Gondola. The company also drafted the original Niseko Hanazono master plan in 1992.
Mathews cited similarities between the Niseko United and Ecosign’s most famous master plan of Switzerland’s Zermatt resort, where five operating companies were successfully merged into one.
Ecosign has worked on about 10 European ‘resort fusions’ to merge big-name ski resorts throughout Switzerland and Austria. “Earnings have grown in Zermatt five-fold due to efficiencies of scale,” Mathews said. “This allowed the area to invest more to improve and expand, and this as a consequence has driven up occupancy of all resort hotels and properties.”
Mathews proposes that Niseko’s four resorts – Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and Annupuri – be replanned as one resort, so ski lifts, patrol, grooming and maintenance would be governed by one entity.
He said that this fusion would mean an upgrade of facilities for the entire mountain, a better skiing experience for visitors, and more business for each of the resorts, and the area in general.
“Right now there are five operating companies in Niseko fighting each other for market share instead of trying to grow the total pie,” Mathews said.
President of Hanazono resort Colin Hackworth (pictured)said he would be in strong support of a unified mountain master plan, adding that Niseko as a whole would benefit from improvements to its lifts in particular.
He said new lifts were cheaper and more efficient to operate, and that one operations system would by definition be healthier and more cost-effective for the future of Niseko. “Many of the existing lifts are old, ill-positioned, and it is easy to see they were installed with each particular owner’s point of view to try and corral their customers as best they could, rather than with a view to uniting Niseko mountain as one ski resort,” he said.
“At the end of the day, the customer just wants to be able to ski in a large ski area and travel from side to side in comfort, unfettered and unhindered. In comparison to Europe with its state-of-the-art six-packs, eight packs, gondolas and trams, the ski field infrastructure in Niseko is very dated indeed. Recognition of the issue is certainly a step in the right direction – solving it must be the next.”