Ski Map Artist Jim Niehues Is The Picasso of the Piste

Ski Map Artist Jim Niehues Is The Picasso of the Piste

If you have skied virtually any where in North The usa, you have in all probability got a number of of Jim Niehues’s paintings in the pockets of previous parkas and bibs, or tucked away in your glove box or, if you are no packrat, embedded in deep in some cerebral corner dedicated to joyful reminiscences.

In the path maps Niehues has painted for 191 resorts, it’s normally bluebird and the snow is perfectly contoured in mild and shadow, so that whether you’re contacting it forth from memory or spreading it throughout your knees on a sluggish-transferring chairlift, what you see is what you are going to get.

“I try to paint them the way they ski,” claimed Niehues, 74. “These visuals are like fingerprints. I really do not consider there’s yet another variety of graphic that can really portray the quality of snowboarding like a path map can.”

Niehue’s design is so legendary, and so common, that you might not acknowledge it as a style at all. It’s just the way vacation resort maps are—an efficient synthesis of cartography and landscape art, stacked by the hundreds in lodges and carry traces. Although most swiftly fulfill their conclude in a trash bin, every has the likely, through the magic of memory and remember, to turn out to be a valued artifact.

Possibly that clarifies the response when Niehues and Todd Bennett floated the notion of accumulating his artwork in a espresso desk ebook. They hoped to increase $8,000 on a crowdfunding site to examination the market place and deal with some of the publishing charges. Skiers pledged $590,000.

Ski Map Artist Jim Niehues Is The Picasso of the Piste

Jim Niehues at work in his property studio in Parker, Colorado. Image by Lindsay Pierce Martin.

The challenge started with a contact from Bennett, a ski bum turned Disney govt whom Niehues had hardly ever fulfilled. “He desired to invest in a coffee table e book, and when I said I did not have a single he claimed, ‘If you at any time get one particular, I’ll help place it out,’” Niehues mentioned. “And I’m thinking, Oh, yeah, absolutely sure.” Then the Kickstarter went by way of the roof. Niehues was overwhelmed by the reaction.

“To have the subsequent out there amid skiers, not amid the resorts, but among the the people that really use the path maps was so fulfilling,” he stated. “I just do not have ample words and phrases for it.” The Guy At the rear of the Maps: Famous Ski Artist James Niehues is now in its fourth printing. The 292-web page hardcover incorporates additional than 200 of Niehues’ hand-painted ski path maps, and sells for $90 on Niehues’ web-site.

Niehues grew up on a farm in Loma, Colorado, exactly where he acquired to appreciate the significant plains and mountain landscapes of Western Colorado. “My dad and I and my brothers would go down the river in a very little boat and hunt and fish. We had red rock canyonlands and a great river, and then on the east is the Grand Mesa,” he stated. “We just had all forms of outdoor terrain to take pleasure in.”

In the ninth grade, Niehues was bedridden with nephritis, an irritation of the kidneys. The condition put him on his back for 3 months. He wasn’t even meant to get out of mattress to pee. To move the hours, his mom bought him an oil painting established, and he commenced to paint scenes he identified in magazines.

Ski Map Artist Jim Niehues Is The Picasso of the Piste

Niehues begins every single trail map with a comprehensive pencil sketch, like this 1998 drawing of Steamboat in Colorado. Credit rating: James Niehouse.

After superior faculty and a shot at faculty, he enlisted to conquer the draft. The war in Vietnam was raging, but the Military despatched him to Germany, the place he and a different soldier set up an artwork studio in the basement of an previous SS barracks. He tried using skiing for the first time when he was in the assistance, on a small hill in Austria.

“They experienced a race track and I acquired the fastest time. I thought it was really very hot, so when I appear again house I went up to Powderhorn,” he mentioned. The steep terrain was additional than he could cope with with 1960s equipment and minimal knowledge. “I was striving to traverse above to the aspect and switch, and rather of turning I’d just run out of place and wreck,” he claimed. “I pretty much walked off the study course.”

The dean of North American ski artists by no means did become a lot of a skier. Again home in western Colorado, he went to work for a car components organization, drawing tachometers and timing lights and inevitably functioning the firm’s in-home print shop. He later on struck out on his individual as a graphic artist, then remarried and moved to Denver, now with four young children alternatively of two. Business slowed.

Niehues was 40 years outdated when he labored his way into the ski-map company, a specialized niche industry with just ample do the job for just one artist to make a residing. In the mid-1980s, that artist was Monthly bill Brown. “I was hunting for work mainly because I was starving, and just by coincidence I ran into Monthly bill Brown. I known as him up hoping he had some do the job. And golly, I acquired a vocation.”

Ski Map Artist Jim Niehues Is The Picasso of the Piste

Niehue’s operate is renowned for its element and prosperous shades, as viewed in this inset of Breckenridge reproduced in his new espresso desk ebook. Credit score: Open Road Ski Enterprise.

Brown asked him to paint an inset map of Wintertime Park’s Mary Jane mountain in Colorado, and the two grew to become friends. Brown was transitioning out of the ski-mapping business enterprise and Niehues hustled to fill the gap. He had the Winter season Park inset copied onto Kodachrome slides, and despatched them to just about every vacation resort in the place with a notice: “A quality illustration demonstrates a good quality ski practical experience.”

It’s an apt description of his artwork, which has been lauded for its intricate detail and hanging color. He performs in gouache, an opaque watercolor that can be layered and textured. He paints each tree individually, to start with blocking forested parts with vertical strokes, then re-wetting the paint to mix the colors prior to returning all over again to insert highlights and shadows.

The Mary Jane mailing landed Niehues a gig to paint Vail’s new trail map, which led to additional do the job. At his peak in the late eighties and nineties, when he was painting as several as 12 resorts in a calendar year, place in 8-hour shifts at the easel, 7 times a week. When his shoulder damage much too considerably to elevate the brush, he rigged a sling from the ceiling and kept painting. “You require to be able to produce beneath tension, and actually I consider I paint far better below tension anyway,” he explained.

Ski Map Artist Jim Niehues Is The Picasso of the Piste

Niehues operates from aerial photographs, and strives to paint mountains “as they ski.” Picture by Lindsay Pierce Martin.

For a time in the early aughts, as computer-aided imaging took off, Niehue’s enterprise endured. He dropped his rates to contend but never ever reduced his creative benchmarks. He was self-assured that his maps portray a mountain in a way no computer can, with a form of spiritual fidelity to the landscape and the sport that he sums up as “romancing.”

“Early in my profession, I really looked on it as currently being more critical to get the mountain definitely right,” he points out. “But I’ve developed to know the real value of romancing a mountain.” Like John Henry experiencing down the steam drill, Niehues became an unassuming champion of the human touch, maintaining the device age at bay.

He estimates that he’s painted path maps for 75 % of the resorts in North The usa, and a smattering on four other continents. He starts every of them with a series of aerial pictures and Google Earth sights, from which he results in a detailed pencil sketch. It’s a procedure of interpretation, as couple mountains can only be squashed flat to in shape on a map. Niehues very carefully stretches and molds the terrain into a view that, while not usually correct to lifetime, is trustworthy to the working experience of snowboarding the mountain.

This bit of creative alchemy necessary that he master how to ski, so almost 20 decades soon after his Powderhorn misadventure he buckled up the boards and pointed them downhill. “Early in my job I took several a drop getting down an intermediate slope. I felt it was vital for me to expertise the difficulty of the slopes. Now that I have finished that, I don’t have to ski the mountain to do a superior illustration. I can get the job done from the aerials.”

Ski Map Artist Jim Niehues Is The Picasso of the Piste

Niehues’ painting of Big Sky, Montana in his new ebook, The Man Guiding the Maps. Credit: Open Highway Ski Corporation.

After the pencil sketch passes muster with vacation resort staff members who know their mountains intimately, Niehues initiatives it on to his painting board and uses his watercolors to provide it to life. The approach can consider weeks of painstaking labor, but no other technique yields the success that have designed Niehue skiing’s go-to artist for much more than 30 many years.

Monarch Mountain’s Greg Ralph summed it up for a reporter back in 2007. “It’s like hearing Michelangelo is obtainable to paint the ceiling. You say, ‘Cool, we’ll take him.’” The Washington Write-up picked up the quotation a long time afterwards, dubbing Niehues the “Michelangelo of Snow.” The New York Periods answered with “The Rembrandt of the ski trail,” and the race was on. Just about every reporter with a thesaurus and an art history textbook chimed in. Niehues turned the “Monet of the mountain” and the “Norman Rockwell of ski resorts.”

How about “Picasso of the Piste?” we asked.

Niehues laughed. “Well, I do manipulate the surfaces, so I guess Picasso would be a fairly good description possibly,” he reported, ever the polite the Rocky Mountain farm boy. While he claims he’s generally admired Van Gogh for the way he makes use of colour, Niehues claims there is not a great deal of Van Gogh, or any outdated masters, in his paintings. “If I’m motivated by any person it is Invoice Brown and Hal Shelton,” he explained of Colorado’s ski-artwork pioneers. Shelton was an inspiration and Brown a mentor, but far more than anything at all Niehues is self-taught. His artwork education is composed of a brief stint at Colorado Mesa College and a mail-buy system as a bedridden teenager.

“My mother signed me up for that,” he reported. “Famous Artist College I think it was called.” Sixty years on, there’s no far more famous or influential artist in the ski map earth.

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