Our Story & Our Approach to Mountain Design

In the creation of a truly successful mountain experience it is important that the designers are not overwhelmed by the dominance of any of the specialized technical aspects of design, while recognizing the needs of each one of them. This is why the total architecture, that is, the overall plan of a design, particularly in the mountains, is so important.

Oberti Resort Design is a division of Oberto Oberti Architecture and Urban Design Inc. and a member of the Pheidias Group of companies. Oberto’s work on mountain resorts began in the early 1970s at Whistler with Asbjorn Gathe, the gifted architect planner that was a personal friend of Franz Wilhelmsen, one the founding fathers of Whistler.

His design concepts for resorts and mountains have been enriched by the curiosity generated by the experience of visiting and particularly skiing the mountains and resorts of both Europe and North America starting from childhood, continuing through national-level alpine ski racing in youth, and through professional life in adulthood.

Oberto’s personal experiences and education was rounded and enhanced by his association with many of the industry pioneers and leading consultants in resort design in North America as well as the development of a design team and office in Vancouver, which has now been in business for forty years.

Oberti Resort Design is now directed by Oberto’s son, Tommaso Oberti – also a former ski racer and a fifteen-year veteran of resort design.

Following Oberto’s work with Asbjorn Gathe in Whistler, and the establishment of his firm, a large number of designs and projects were completed. These roughly followed the growth of the resort industry, especially at Whistler, with projects ranging from the planning of Twin Lakes and the design of the first project of Village North, to the complete redesign of Creekside in 1996 for Ballast Nedam International. This project was to be crowned by a Hyatt Resort Hotel to be located where Intrawest later built the current Creekside Lodge.

When Intrawest bought Whistler Mountain and took over the redevelopment of Whistler’s Creekside, Oberti Resort Design proposed to Ballast Nedam International to look at alternative locations. The Whitetooth ski area near Golden was found to be a suitable location and a vision of a new resort, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, was developed (read the story of KHMR here). The initial concept was to build a Hyatt Resort Hotel as a centerpiece and a gondola that would give access to the mountaintop. The concept was to offer access to a whole mountain in an ideal climate for skiing and sightseeing and to create a new North American tourism destination near the National Parks.

Oberti Resort Design has had the opportunity to study most of the master plans of B.C. ski areas, as well as many foreign projects for a variety of clients over the years. In so doing, the company has developed its own planning approach, which brings a different vision to the concept of mountain experience than is common to many existing North American resorts.

The mountain experience is an important notion that is not often clearly applied to mountain planning. Ski area planners have often addressed the challenge of creating the best mountain experience from a somewhat technocratic point of view – with the optimization of lifts and ski run designs that utilize the best ski pods and calculated management of skier traffic. These calculations were also utilized as a way to manage mountain operations. However these are only some of the components of a mountain experience, which should not be planned as a sum total of components – just like a building is not planned as a sum total of components. The design and development concept must derive from the overall vision and the components must be designed from the overall vision.

Ski area planning has become a field of expertise whose practitioners have typically evolved from specialties such as landscape architecture, ropeways engineering and related fields. These are specialties among the components. Architects and planners, on the other hand, can contribute a different perspective in creating a new type of mountain experience, which is now exemplified by Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.

Mountain and resort design poses design challenges that are similar to other areas of design, where a multiplicity of specialists, from geotechnical, structural, electrical and mechanical engineers to landscape architects contribute to the overall design. The specialists contribute the tools and the verification of a plan that comes ahead of the detailed design of the components. The overall vision of the coordinating design office must drive the design team, in order to achieve a superior mountain experience.

In the creation of a truly successful mountain experience it is important that the designers are not overwhelmed by the dominance of any of the specialized technical aspects of design, while recognizing the needs of each one of them. This is why the total architecture, that is, the overall plan of a design, particularly in the mountains, is so important.

In mountain planning the creation of the mountain experience derives from the combination of a complex number of design components that are not purely related by numerical functions. For example, the skier experience may be limited, rather than enhanced, by a design that simply utilizes and serves the best available ski pods. Some of the great ski runs that have fascinated the world for generations, from the Parsenn, to the Corviglia, to the Lauberhorn and Gornergrat were created as means to descend from mountains that were initially accessed by lifts designed for sightseeing, not for skiing. The Gornergrat railway has remained for a century one of the most profitable lifts ever built. For many reasons the mountain experience there is unforgettable, even if a ski pod analysis would have precluded building it.

The limitation of design to a layout dictated by ski pods tends to create a mountain project that grows as a labyrinth of chairlifts and where people ski chairlifts rather than the available mountain or mountains. This has been at times a criticism of some of the best known mountain resorts in North America, leading to the relocation of chairlifts without a significant change in mountain experience. Similarly, combining the mountain experience with the experience of views and mountain landscape is important in order not to make the experience a purely athletic phenomenon.

In this respect it is important to create arrival points, ideally located at the mountain summit, that maximize the mountain experience and the views from the summit. This is a very important component, often overlooked, at the starting point of ski runs. Often several experiences reinforce themselves.

Providing access to a mountain summit not only makes it possible to experience spectacular views of the other side of the mountains and of new valleys and mountains, as is the case at Kicking Horse Resort, but it can also open up vast amounts of terrain in an efficient and effective manner. The fact that mountaintops are often exposed to wind and are typically characterized by challenging and steep geography has sometimes precluded designers from recognizing the other important values that may offset some initial difficulties and limitations.

Another example of the benefit of an integrated resort design approach is the need to combine the snow-riding experience with the commercial and real estate development, which needs to be understood not merely as the production of units and the resolution of traffic issues in a technical sense, but as a creation of a vibrant resort village experience that combines the comfort of vacationing with the appreciation of the mountain and its year round activities as a whole.

The total mountain experience ranges from the character of resort amenities such as mountain restaurants and cafes, to the impact of viewpoints, to the design of a pedestrian village that creates an experience that is synergistic with the sporting activities available at the mountain but that can be experienced independently. This is where architecture and mountain planning may combine successfully to create a better and more complete experience.

Finally, engineering and construction expertise come into play to generate a project that is economical to build and easy to maintain and to operate.

The Oberti Resort Design office has nurtured its vision, education, experience and personnel for over thirty years to be able to create the total mountain experience, from overall planning to architecture, and bring it to excellence whenever possible. It is a highly qualified planning and construction team, comprising some of the best people that are needed to form a strong and productive working environment, integrated with some of the most respected sub-consultants in British Columbia for specialized fields of expertise. The core of our team for most projects includes Pheidias Project Management, Golder Associates, McElhanney Consulting Services and Enkon Environmental, although many other companies in a variety of projects have been utilized.