Upon visiting a new resort or ski area, the trail map is usually the first thing we pick up to get a lay of the land. But what most skiers don’t know is the countless man hours that go into painting one of these masterpieces.
An artist from Colorado, nobody takes their trail maps more seriously than James Niehues. His wonderfully intricate and beautiful ski maps can be found in countless lift ticket offices across North America, all with the patented Niehues signature in the bottom corner.
Recently, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Niehues to discuss his craft, what got him started, and where he sees trail cartography going from here.
UN: Where was the first place you skied?
James: Actually, the first place I skied was in Austria while in the Army. After returning to the states I skied at my home town mountain, Powderhorn, near Grand Junction Colorado. I’m a Colorado native but never skied before I was 20. Then after another 20 years picked back up on skiing when I started painting trail maps.
UN: Do any trail maps you’ve created stick out in your memory?
James: There are many… for many different reasons from the aerial photography to the manipulation of the mountains features to get three dimensions onto a single sheet of paper. Perhaps the most memorable is the trip to New Zealand, not necessarily for the projects, but seeing the incredibly beautiful scenery with my wife and the wonderful people too.
UN: You’ve become known as the ‘trail map artist’ did you ever expect that?
James: Early on the marketing director at Vail referred to me as the trail map guy. Since I was pretty much the only one in the states I’ve grown accustomed to it.
UN: Since entering retirement what drives you to keep creating art?
James: Semi-retired, but very busy just taking on the projects that interest me. I love researching the slopes and putting together the final composition, the sketching and the painting. I can’t turn down a challenge! Been wanting to paint oils but just love being involved with the ski maps.
You can see more of James’ work @ jamesniehues.com