“My reviewing professor liked the design but cautioned that he was unsure if it was really landscape architecture.” – Brent Harley

The following article by Brent Harley was featured as the Last Word in the CSLA publication Landscapes – Vol. 16, No. 1 which can be read here.


Mountain Resort Planning has always been the focus of my career as a landscape architect.  I have worked all over the world on incredibly interesting all-season ski resort projects, from major destination resorts designed to host the Olympics to small ski areas that are key elements of local community recreation programs.

My career really began back in 1975 when I presented my design for the development of a ski area as one of my final projects for my BLA at the University of Guelph.  My reviewing professor liked the design but cautioned that he was unsure if it was really landscape architecture.

In 1977, after a winter of ski bumming in Jasper, Alberta, I was hired by a landscape architectural firm to help with the master plan of the Capital City Park System along the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton.  As luck would have it, in the second week of my employ, my boss came in and said, “We have to include a ski area in the Park.  Who here knows anything about ski area design?”

I immediately let him know that I knew everything about ski area design.  The project was mine.  Over the course of the next year I began to realize how little I actually knew.  Learning on the job, I finished the design and then spent the summer supervising construction of the facility.  This experience landed me a job in Whistler, BC to help with the initial designs for Blackcomb. This in turn led to other ski area projects.


The Silence Was Deafening 

Believing that my career in ski resort design would benefit by my becoming a registered landscape architect, I diligently wrote and passed all of the BCSLA exams. (This was pre-CLARB.) The final test was an interview with the BCSLA’s Board of Directors. During my presentation of the ski resort master plans that I had completed, one of the Board members stated that, while interesting, he wondered whether this was really landscape architecture and asked to see examples of planting plans that I had completed. When I informed him that I didn’t have planting plans to present, the silence was deafening. My application to join the BCSLA was denied. Disagreeing with this small-minded attitude had a big impact on my career. I believed (and still believe) that the development of large scale “design on the land” falls well within the definition of landscape architecture as coined by Olmsted and others. I persevered and was invited to join the BCSLA and the CSLA the next year (following the presentation of a planting plan for my backyard). Since that time, I have proudly called myself a landscape architect while remaining focused on mountain resort design and planning. My firm has completed projects throughout Canada and the United States; Japan, Korea and China; Australia and New Zealand; Bulgaria and Armenia. Over the years, we have expanded our offerings to include all-season facilities, resort-oriented village design and mountain residential development…all very much within the realm of landscape architecture. As a landscape architect, I believe that I bring more to the table than the planners, architects and/or engineers that so often undertake the specialized work of ski resort design. In projects such as this, landscape architects combine their diverse range of abilities to explore the attributes of the land, align the opportunities and challenges with the desired intent, craft creative detailed solutions and graphically communicate the process and end result. As a profession, we have the skill set to offer a holistic design approach. This should be promoted and celebrated more often