Ski areas are increasingly cutting back on the number of pocket-size paper trail maps they print and distribute. The reasons range from cost savings and environmental concerns to promoting resort-specific apps that offer a slew of interactive features in addition to digital maps. Last winter many ski areas didn’t put out the usual stacks of maps as a Covid measure, but the trend goes well beyond pandemic protocol.
Once again we see a variation on the long debate between paper and digital maps, with many familiar arguments: saving paper, convenience, the sheer robustness of paper vs. failure-prone technology (not nothing when you’re relying on a phone to work on top of a cold mountain), and so on. Also, in this specific case, that guests might prefer a paper map as a souvenir (not for nothing did Niehues make a career out of them).
Adam Engst of TidBITS: “I’ve been working with mapping services a lot of late and wanted to share some of my experiences in the hope that they’ll help you boost your mapping game beyond simple navigation.” Mostly focuses on fitness-related mapping, but also on how to correct errors on online maps.
If you subscribe to Disney+, check out the 10th episode of Disney Insider, which dropped yesterday: its first segment looks at how National Geographic Maps produces its trail maps. The talking is done by National Geographic’s director of cartographic production, David Lambert. I can’t help but be reminded of those old newsreels that talked about map production; this is kind of that, only with really good production values.
Our NatGeo Maps office here in Colorado was featured on Disney+’s Disney Insider show episode 10 that dropped today! Watch 0:47-7:15 to see our boss talking about what we do! 🏞🥾 My 7-second, focused-cartographer 🤓🗺 cameo starts at 2:30! pic.twitter.com/p49B6Z1NfY
Legendary ski resort map artist James Niehues has announced on his blog and on Twitter that he will be “stepping away from creating ski resort trail maps” after more than three decades. He plans to work on other projects, including the American Landscape Project, and will, for the first time, be selling original paintings and sketches of his ski resort trail maps later this month.
The Guardian: “Scottish mountaineering charities have criticised Google for suggesting routes up Ben Nevis and other mountains they say are ‘potentially fatal’ and direct people over a cliff.” Google Maps’s issue with Ben Nevis is that it routes to a parking lot nearest the summit, then more or less straight-lines it from there; as a dotted line it’s meant to indicate a route very imprecisely, but it also corresponds to a higher-difficulty ascent route that could land even experienced hikers in trouble. Not meant to be taken by people who don’t know what they’re doing—the people who might have no clue that it’s a bad idea to use Google Maps for mountain hiking, for example.
To be clear, I think this one’s on Google. A lot of people trust online maps implicitly because they have poor navigation skills and have a hard time overruling what the directions tell them: this is why people keep driving into rivers and onto tracks. It’s a design failure not to account for this in every circumstance.
Nothing wrong with it as a fun exercise, but can it actually be used? As someone who back in the day biked quite a lot of the Ottawa and Gatineau bike trail network, I can’t use this map. I don’t recognize the path network. Part of it is because many of those paths have names that he doesn’t use; part of it is the conceit of creating “stations”; part of it is that a surface path network that can be entered or exited at any point is not well served by a network diagram. It makes sense to abstract a subway network from the street level, because you’re basically travelling from station to station. You’re not doing that on a bike; you’re in the neighbourhood.
In an interview with Atlas Obscura’s Max Ufberg, legendary ski resort map artist James Niehues (no stranger to us here at The Map Room: previously) discusses some of the challenges involved in creating his paintings. For example:
What’s the most challenging aspect of the work? Showing all the trails in the most understandable and navigational way. It may not always be in one view, but I strive for the single view because it leaves no doubt about any trail connections or direction. Many mountains have slopes on more than one face, which requires manipulating the features to show the back side with the front on a flat sheet of paper. This has to be done with care since skiers will be referring to the image to choose their way down; all elements have to be relative to what they are experiencing on the mountain.
The Australian government agency responsible for printing topographic maps will stop printing them as of December, ABC Australia reports. Geoscience Australia cites a lack of demand for paper maps, but as you can imagine there’s some pushback against the decision.
“It’s fascinating how many people are map lovers,” Myrmel said. He has an extensive collection of Boundary Waters Wilderness maps dating back to the 1950s. “I said, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this old-school style. It’s all by hand.”
Using pencils, markers and watercolor paint, he put down information from books, maps, the internet and personal experience on a 2-by-13-foot map. The process took hundreds of hours, he said.
See also this 2018 story from the Star Tribune. The maps cost $34 or $35 and are available for sale from Myrmel’s website or from a number of local businesses.
We’ve talked about James Niehuesbefore: the legendary artist has painted hundreds of maps of ski resorts and recreational areas since the late 1980s. I was excited to learn that he’s producing a coffee table book that includes all of his maps. It’s being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. Pledging $75 or more gets you a copy of the book; other pledge levels get you a high-quality print. Clearly there’s some interest: at the moment the project has raised more than $223,000 from nearly 2,000 backers, 28 times its target of $8,000, with three weeks still to go. [Kottke]
If the purpose here is to point to the route less travelled, well and good, but I suspect the effect will be rather like what happens when a travel guide raves about an out-of-the-way, hidden gem of a restaurant.
Relying on your smartphone’s maps can be risky in places where cellular service is patchy. That goes for Gatineau Park, where, despite the fact that its southeast corner is surrounded by the city of Gatineau, Quebec (across the river from Ottawa), staff still recommend people use paper maps, CBC News reports. It’s a big park, after all, and not all of it is in the city. But it’s not just about dead zones and dead batteries: out of date trail information and lack of trail difficulty are also problems. None of these problems, mind you, are unfixable (except, you know, dead batteries).