Patroller heads from China Bowl to China |

Patroller heads from China Bowl to China

Special to the Daily/Aspen TimesBilly Mattison of Vail, shown competing in last year's Elk Mountain Grand Traverse, is leaving the valley to help develop a new resort in China. Mattison is a longtime member of Vail Ski Patrol.

VAIL ” Billy Mattison is well known for his adventure-racing career. But his latest endeavor may be his greatest adventure yet.

Mattison, a 27-year Vail resident and assistant director of Vail Ski Patrol, is moving to China to help develop a new resort there called Ping Tian, where he will be the director of mountain operations.

Having retired from adventure racing last year, Mattison said he felt like he needed a new challenge.

“The adventure of it,” said Mattison, 49. “The romanticism of it. The opportunity to create a ski area from scratch. There are not that many places in the world you can do that.”

The resort is in the northwest corner of China, near Kazahkstan and Mongolia. A common acquaintance put the ski resort’s developer, Thomas Ching, in touch with Mattison.

Ping Tian will have 3,000 to 4,000 acres of skiable terrain and 3,000 vertical ” similar to Vail’s 5,189 acres and 3,450 vertical.

It has a wide-open bowl similar to Highlands Bowl in Aspen, he said.

“The terrain on the mountain is awesome,” he said. “It’s not as vast as the Back Bowls, but it’s steep. It’s got some long, steep runs.”

The resort will be the first destination ski resort in China, Mattison said. Its developers are hoping to capitalize on China’s burgeoning leisure class, he said.

Ping Tian is about 45 minutes from Urumqi, a large city with a big airport ” Mattison compared it to Salt Lake City and its nearby ski resorts. That gives it easy access to urbanites from Beijing who want to escape for a short trip, he said.

The area has a “continental snowpack” ” the same as what Colorado gets ” which is characterized by relatively powdery snow. It stays cold, too ” it’s at the same latitude as Jackson Hole.

Mattison will be involved in the trail-cutting, lift installation and snowmaking-equipment installation. Once the resort opens, he’ll oversee grooming, snowmaking, ski patrol, guest service and anything else that happens on the mountain.

One of his challenges will be assembling the first-ever ski patrol in China, he said.

Mattison knows the stories about Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton skinning up a nameless mountain in 1957 to discover seemingly perfect ski terrain that would become Vail.

And that’s what he was thinking about when he heard about this new opportunity, he said.

“I read all the books, and lived in Vail for 27 years, and met Pete Seibert, and met Earl Eaton, and just wished so badly I could have been there,” he said. “This was an opportunity to do what they did. Hopefully it turns out as successfully as theirs did.”

Coincidentally, a former Vail Resorts colleague, Chuck Tolton, one-time director of mountain operations at Keystone, will join Mattison at Ping Tian. Tolton will be a vice president for the Ping Tian resort company.

Vail Resorts’ most high-profile employee making an international jump is Mountain Division Co-President Roger McCarthy, who is helping develop a resort in Russia.

Mattison said Vail Mountain’s and Vail Resorts’ reputation in the ski industry boosted his credentials to help him get the job.

Mattison said he’s making an attempt to learn Chinese.

“I’ve been listening to the tapes, and it’s an extremely difficult language to learn,” he said. “The tapes are tough to even listen to.”

Plenty of people speak English there, though, he said.

A native of Concord, Mass., Mattison moved to Vail in 1980, and worked for years as a ski tuner before becoming a ski patroller. He’s been on patrol for 17 years here.

It’ll be hard to leave Vail, but he intends to return here one day. He wants to stay in China for about three to five years, he said.

Mattison said his wife, Helene, was supportive of the move, though they’re a little nervous about moving halfway around the globe. The Mattisons have 4-year-old twins.

He’ll be sad to leave his home of 27 years, he said.

“But you’ve got to take the opportunity,” he said. “Something like this is never going to come around again.”

And don’t think Mattison will abandon his adventurous ways in China. He hears there’s good ice climbing around there, and he’s eyeing the whitewater on the Yangtze and Mekong rivers.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

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