The End of the Ski Trail Map

Ski trail maps may not last much past Jim Niehues’s retirement. Ski resorts are increasingly resorting to apps rather than paper ski trail maps to help their guests navigate, the New York Times reports.

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).

Disney Insider Looks at National Geographic 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.

Niehues Moves On from Ski Resort Maps

James Niehues
James Niehues (2018)

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.

Previous posts about James Niehues.

Google Maps Called Out for Showing ‘Potentially Fatal’ Mountain Routes

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.

A Network Map of Ottawa’s Cycling Network

Hans on the Bike map of the Ottawa-Gatineau cycling network
Hans on the Bike

Hans on the Bike has produced a map of the Ottawa-Gatineau bicycle path network in the style of a Beck-style subway network map. “Is a metro map for cycling useful? I think it has a function in visualizing a network in an easy and pleasing way,” he writes. “In the end it is more a fun project than a bike map avant la lettre.”

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.

Atlas Obscura Interviews James Niehues

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.

[via]

Australia to Eliminate Paper Topographic Maps

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.

(The Canadian government tried something similar back in 2006, but the decision was overturned after a public outcry.)

Book of Niehues Ski Resort Art Now Available

The Man Behind the Map, the coffee table book of Jim Niehues’s ski resort maps whose crowdfunding campaign I told you about last year, is now available for sale.

The Man Behind the Maps (cover)The book is nearly 300 pages long, contains more than 200 ski resort maps, and costs $90. That seems high, but printing a full-colour book in small or print-on-demand batches doesn’t come cheap.

Previously: Crowdfunding a Book of James Niehues’s Ski Resort Art; A Video Profile of James Niehues, Ski Resort Map Artist; James Niehues Passes the Torch; James Niehues’s Ski Resort Maps; James Niehues Profile.

Keith Myrmel’s Hand-Drawn Trail Maps

Keith Myrmel

Keith Myrmel, a retired landscape architect from Minnesota, has produced two maps of the Boundary Waters region that are proving popular with hikers and canoers. The maps—one of the Superior Hiking Trail, the other of the North Country Trail and Arrowhead region—are large (26 by 40 inches) and intricately hand-drawn. The Twin Cities Pioneer Press covered Myrmel and his work last June:

“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.

Crowdfunding a Book of James Niehues’s Ski Resort Art

James Niehues, “Big Sky Resort,” 2013.

We’ve talked about James Niehues before: 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]

Previously: A Video Profile of James Niehues, Ski Resort Map Artist; James Niehues Passes the Torch; James Niehues’s Ski Resort Maps; James Niehues Profile.

Purple Lizard Maps

Purple Lizard mapEvery now and again I discover another local mapmaking company whose products are familiar to, even well-loved by, well, the locals, but not much known elsewhere: the A-Z maps and London; the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer; Kroll and Seattle; Wunnenberg and St. Louis; Sherlock and Winnipeg (that one I knew about, being from there). Add another company to that list: Purple Lizard Maps, which produces a line of outdoor recreation maps that focuses mostly (but not exclusively) on central Pennsylvania. The Center County Gazette talks to Michael Hermann, who founded Purple Lizard in 1997. [WMS]

Previously: John Loacker and the Kroll Map Company; A Paper Maps Roundup.

The Least Popular Ordnance Survey Map

The Guardian reports on the worst-selling Ordnance Survey map, which I suspect will very quickly cease to be the worst-selling map thanks to the news coverage. It’s OS Explorer 440: Glen Cassley and Glen Oykel, a 1:25,000-scale map of a remote region of the Scottish Highlands. (Buy it at Amazon.) The area covered by the map is apparently spectacularly empty, at least as far as humans are concerned, with only “a few dozen houses,” most of which are used for vacation or hunting purposes. In a blog post today, the Ordnance Survey goes into more detail, listing the 10 least popular maps in the U.K.: they’re all in Scotland, so they also give the least popular maps for England and Wales.

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.

Gatineau Park Recommends Paper Maps

Gatineau Park (National Capital Commission)

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).

The paper maps in question include general summer and winter maps, along with trail maps for summer and winter activities (all links to PDF files). They’re not total luddites: here’s an interactive map.

The Illustrated Football Atlas

Created by designer Michael Raisch to coincide with the 2018 FIFA World Cup, The Illustrated Football Atlas combines vintage maps with drawings of the respective countries’ players. For more about this project, there’s an interview with Raisch at both The Guardian and These Football Times. [Mark Safran]