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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien

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Travel

Jan 22, 2019

Painting On-Piste: James Niehues is Skiing’s Cartographer

Illustrator James Niehues has produced exquisite, hand-painted trail maps for ski resorts as far afield as Portillo, Chile, and Vail, Colorado since the late 1980s. His crowdfunded coffee table book just became Kickstarter’s most successful art-illustration project ever.

WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

If you’ve ever unfolded a ski resort trail map and plotted your day on the mountain, you’ve probably got James Niehues (pronounced “Nee-hews”) to thank. He doesn’t throw backflips and won’t feature in the next Warren Miller film, but he’s arguably the most ubiquitous name in skiing.

James Niehues in his home studio in Parker, Colorado. Photo by Lindsay Pierce Martin.

The map-maker/artist extraordinaire goes by Jim, and he’s illustrated almost 200 ski resorts worldwide in resplendent detail. Equal parts art and atlas, his work suffuses a passion and idiosyncrasy undeniably compatible with the world of snowsports. Every meticulously painted evergreen and the careful shading of cliffs and gullies are evidence of Niehues’s commitment to verisimilitude. In April of 2018, Jim and a team of innovators got the idea to curate a hardcover coffee table book to showcase his life’s work of ski cartography. The campaign hit Kickstarter in November 2018 with a goal of raising $8,000. As of the project’s January 2019 deadline, 5,196 backers had pledged $590,088, making Jim’s magnum opus Kickstarter’s highest-funded illustration project ever.

Niehues did not anticipate the overwhelming response. “That last day, we were going absolutely crazy. Half a million! I couldn’t believe it!” he exclaimed. “I knew there were some real trail map nuts out there, but I was surprised by the amount of people.” The enormous success of the Kickstarter campaign may have stunned Niehues, but the adulation is overdue for the undersung king of ski cartography.

First, Jim takes aerial photographs of the resort from a small plane or helicopter. Then he sketches their likeness with pencil, down to every tree’s shadow and slope’s grade change.

In the late 1980s, at age 40, Niehues began his prolific career under the tutelage of reigning ski resort illustrator Bill Brown. “I got lucky in the beginning, had good exposure, and my career blossomed—no, exploded,” he described. Though Jim had skied briefly in the Alps in the 60s on duty in the Army, he was not a snowsports fanatic when he began painting maps for the industry. Over time, he became a self-described “intermediate skier” via “on-the-job training”. His hometown hill is Powderhorn Mountain Resort, outside of Grand Junction, Colorado, and he frequented mom-and-pop Sunlight Mountain Resort in nearby Glenwood Springs with his kids. But he’s set skis down on only a handful of the nearly 200 world-class locales he’s painted, preferring to pay homage to the mountains through art rather than athletics. At age 72, Niehues has captured a global array of resorts, showcasing the splendour of the slopes in two dimensions on a 4”x9” folded map. Play ‘I Spy’ with your next trail map—you might find Niehues’s signature hidden in a copse of trees.

Next, Jim animates the landscape with colorful paint.

Maybe there’s something in Niehues’s work that can’t be captured in pixels.

It’s the Digital Age and mega ski resorts are implementing high-tech upgrades: RFID (radio-frequency identification) gates, all-mountain WiFi, and navigation apps like Vail’s EpicMix. One might fear that Niehues’s hand-drawn creations will be rendered obsolete by computer-generated designs. But he’s stayed in-demand at resorts large and small around the world. Niehues thinks that until technology improves, computers can’t compete with the accuracy afforded by the artist’s imagination. “So far, digital maps are just an artist using Photoshop. They don’t offer anything that a hand-painted map can’t.” And maybe there’s something in Niehues’s work that can’t be captured in pixels. “These maps represent the Great Outdoors. Users are there to ski and appreciate the surroundings, and I don’t think a computer-generated image offers the same connection,” he opines. Certainly, the pastel peaks of the Elk Range backgrounding Aspen Highlands or the creamy contours of New Zealand’s Whakapapa effuse a je ne se quois inconceivable of a CGI. Like Bill Brown before him, Niehues wants to preserve the tradition of homespun ski maps. His own protégé, illustrator Rad Smith, is a CGI guyNiehues is mentoring him in hand illustration. In an increasingly digitized world, Niehues’s maps epitomize the indispensability of handicraft.

Jim in his studio.

“It doesn’t feel like a job—it’s like a hobby on steroids”

Though he’s been thinking about retirement for the past several years, Niehues just can’t bring himself to put the paintbrush down. “A ski resort will call me up, and I just can’t resist the offer. I enjoy doing it; it’s a challenge and it’s very rewarding. It doesn’t feel like a job—it’s like a hobby on steroids,” he explains. In fact, one of Niehues’s current projects, Mt. Bachelor ski resort in Oregon, is a fresh challenge. “It’s got skiing on a volcano at all 360 degrees and I’ve got to get it all in one view,” he says. He’s also occupied with the post-production of his Kickstarter book. Todd Bennett, a member of the creative team behind the campaign, says the project is in its concept design and layout phase. The finished product will include a story component orchestrated by writer Jason Blevins of the Colorado Sun. “Working with Jim has been a really fun fanboy experience,” Bennett laughs. He too was blown away by the massive success of the Kickstarter campaign. “We had a very humble goal of $8,000, and day one, we hit $60,000. It was awesome to see so many people interested in Jim’s story,” he says. Jim’s biographic exhibition is Open Road Ski Company’s first commercial venture, and backers can expect their hardcover editions in June of 2019. With the enormous success of his Kickstarter campaign as rocket fuel, the reigning king of ski cartography paints on.

The result is a highly accurate rendering of a world-class resort. Pictured: Telluride Ski Resort in Telluride, CO, USA. Copyright James Niehues.

For a full selection of Jim’s art, visit his website here.

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Travel

Oct 26, 2019

The Undeniable Beauty of Poland’s Gory Stolowe National Park

Visitors will find a rare-looking, 70 million year-old untouched land with rock formations and wildlife in this anomalous European landscape.

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WRITTEN BY

Jonatar Evaristo

Despite being a fascinating town, Karłów isn’t really top of the must-see list for most people visiting Poland. Of course, it’s not easy to compete with charming cities such as Warsaw and Krakow, but Karłów is also a stunning and interesting destination.

And the most surprising place I’ve visited in Karłów was, undoubtedly, Gory Stolowe National Park, also known as “Table Mountains.” For hiking enthusiasts like myself, it’s a place you must visit again and again. Located in South-West Poland and sharing territory with the Czech Republic, its 63 square kilometer mountain range offers a plethora of unique activities for its visitors.

The park area is a huge patchwork of hiking trails with over 100 km of traced paths. The reserve’s highest point is Szczeliniec Wielki, reaching 919 meters; and, along with Mały Szczeliniec, which reaches 896 meters, they create a massive and wide landscape scenario, with numerous cracks and deep canyons.

The Devil’s Kitchen is justifiably famous as a path, although hard on the knees, it is a spectacular descent.

Hiking to the top takes around one hour for seasoned hikers and the trail is not too challenging. However, to reach the summit, you must conquer the 665 steps carved into stone in the late 18th century by Karlów’s mayor, Franz Pabel.

What really sets the park landscape apart — among stone mazes and groves, also impossible to ignore — are the rock formations shaped like animals and humans, sculpted by Nature thousands of years ago. You can find an “Elephant,” a “Monkey,” and a “Mammoth,” among many others.

Rock formation of Szczeliniec Wielki.

When you finally reach the summit of Szczeliniec Wielki, however, you will find yourself in a completely different world. At the top, there is the unique B&B “Na Szczelińcu”, completed in 1845 in Tyrolean style, where you can see all the Sudetes mountain range.

After taking in all the splendor of the West view of “Table Mountains” in the Czech side, the way back may be done in two different paths: either by going down the same trail or through “Piekiełku,” which, in English, means “Hell.” And hear this advice attentively: going back the same trail would be an unforgivable sin. This path is packed with atmospheric mazes made out of stonewalls and massive slabs covered with moss, and the views are just breathtaking!

Preservation of this marvellous natural area that we call Gory Stolowe National Park is paramount. Either by climbing up the highest spot of the Table Mountains or by exploring cosmopolitan Warsaw, visiting Poland is always an unforgettable experience.

Natural geologic processes shape “Małpi Łeb” or ‘The Monkey Head’

Cover Photo: The Highest peak of Szczeliniec is a rock formation called “Fotel Pradziada or “Great Grandfathers Armchair”, which can be reached by metal stairs

All photos provided by the author. 

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