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An inspired rival?

With a big vision that includes a few Aussies and a little Whistler influence, a Japanese resort could carve its line as one of the next world ski destinations

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It’s a reversal of the situation in the early ’90s when Japanese companies used to own large portions of Australia’s Gold Coast.

Since the acquisition, real estate has gone up four fold, Australian skier visits have almost tripled, international hotel chains have been watching with curious eyes, and another resort town is on the brink of exploding.

Sound familiar?

Nihon Harmony Resorts’ vision is simple: “To create a year-round destination resort of international quality at Hanazono.” Over the next 10 to 15 years it plans to transform itself into a resort village modeled after our very own Whistler.

The company also hopes to intercept some of the Australian skiers and boarders who travel to Whistler for their sliding fix.

With NHR looking to take its vision to reality they have turned to the Whistler-based resort development firm Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, which has taken on over 225 resort development projects in 26 countries spanning six continents. Ecosign has worked on such resorts as Breckenridge, Mammoth, Winter Park, Mount Hood, Fernie, Sun Peaks, Sunshine, Mount Seymour, Blue Mountain, Mount Tremblant and, of course, Whistler-Blackcomb.

Ecosign’s president, Paul Mathews, has overseen roughly 40 projects in Japan and he has personally been to the country 150 times. Meeting at his Alpine Meadows office, surrounded by binder upon binder of projects from years past and those yet to come, he discussed the NHR project.

MC: Quoting an invest Japan report; Nihon Harmony Resorts plans to turn Hanazono into a resort village modeled after Whistler. Can you elaborate on how it will follow the Whistler model?

PM: Hanazono will follow three main principles of the Whistler model. First, it will be centralized around a pedestrian village offering beds within 450 metres of lift access. Second, it will focus on underground parking to maintain that pedestrian feel, which is a relatively new concept to Japan. Thirdly, it will take into account the “human scale” factor with most buildings capped at three to four storeys. Like Whistler, a large portion of ski in/ski out accommodation is key to the plan. We plan to utilize a new lift servicing the beginner area to expand that potential.

MC: What is Ecosign’s role in the Hanazono project?

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