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).
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.
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.
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]
The Aspen Daily News has a profile of map artist James Niehues, who’s painted hundreds of different aerial views of ski resorts and recreational areas since the late 1980s. (If you’ve seen a poster of your local ski resort, odds are Niehues was the one who painted it. He sells prints of them, too.) The article names Niehues as heir to an artistic tradition of alpine cartographic art whose practitioners included Hal Shelton and Bill Brown.
Without knowing it, Niehues had become heir to an American artistic dynasty. Shelton was trained as [a] U.S. Geological Survey cartographer and produced a large number of famous trail maps in the 1960s and 1970s. In the ’70s, Shelton passed the torch to Brown, and by 1988, Brown was ready to pass the torch off to someone else.
In the early 2000s, though, it seemed that the storied line of American mountain illustrators would end with Niehues. His maps, many of which had faithfully represented ski trails for decades, began to be replaced by digitally rendered pieces whose production values placed speed above quality.
But there’s a twist: one of the digital illustrators, Rad Smith, ended looking to Niehues for inspiration and mentorship. Demand for painted maps turns out to be more resilient; Niehues, who I believe is in his late sixties and has described himself as semi-retired, may have someone to pass the torch to after all. It’s a fascinating read. [via]
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