When it’s the middle of summer and months away from the first snow of the season, the best way to feel like you’re close to the snow short of packing up and flying to another hemisphere is by looking at a trail map of your favorite mountain.
We all know that the snow, trees, and slopes of a trail map can satisfy even the most snow- starved skiers and snowboarders, but what most people don’t know is that just about all of the trail maps of North America’s mountains are hand painted by one man. We’re just as obsessed with trail maps as anyone at ASO Mammoth, so we’re showing our appreciation to the man behind them here. Get to know James Niehues below!
You Know His Art, Now Know His Name
If you’ve been to Mammoth Mountain, then you’ve seen James Niehues’ work posted all over the mountain and probably even carried it in your pocket, but even if you haven’t then you’ve seen his work elsewhere. Niehues painted 175 different views for ski resorts, but in every map he has made you’ll find a combination of accuracy and aesthetic details that makes them practical enough to use on the mountain and beautiful enough to frame and hang. In fact, one of the first maps he made for Boreal Mountain nearly 30 years ago is still in use today.
Niehues’ Dream Job Didn’t Come Easy
Niehues grew up on a Colorado farm where he fell in love with nature. Soon, he was painting to express himself.
Based on his skill and the number of maps Niehues has created, you might think that he started painting trail maps as a boy and has been at it ever since. The truth is that Niehues spent his early adult life working in print shops, an ad agency, and even creating presentation materials for courts. It wasn’t until he was 40 years old that he met an accomplished trail map artist who gave him his first chance. After he proved his skill, Niehues was given assignments to work on at night after his day job until he had enough work to go fulltime.
James Niehues Spent More Time in the Air than on the Mountain
When you see the level of detail put into each Niehues map, you may think that he visits every trail on the mountain. However, Niehues actually got most of his details from arial photographs which he took himself. Niehues took photos from above during winter when there is greater contrast between the mountain and all of the trees, rocks, and buildings that cover it. After that, he projected the image onto a board to capture every detail from the photo before painting his image and sending it to a lab for a high-resolution image to be made. Once Niehues had his scan, he applied extra touches and details to create his finished product.
Niehues’ Art is the Perfect Gift for the Skier or Snowboarder in Your Life
Here at ASO Mammoth we look at Niehues’ work everyday, so we can tell you with certainty that seeing it never gets old. Fortunately for us and everyone who loves ski mountains, Niehues has a book filled with his work available for sale at his website. If you have something more specific in mind, then you can also buy prints of select mountains that are bound to make any skier or snowboarder smile. No matter what you’re looking at though, you won’t be disappointed with any of Niehues’ work. In 2019, the now retired Niehues was inducted in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, and now you know why!