British Columbia

Artist who painted 250 mountain trail maps for ski resorts to release book

If you've ever skied at one of B.C.'s alpine resorts, chances are you've seen one of James Niehues' paintings.

Maps of Whistler Blackcomb, Grouse Mountain and Sun Peaks among James Niehues many paintings.

James Niehues started painting in Grade 9, and painted his first ski map in 1988. (Submitted by James Niehues)

If you've ever skied at one of B.C.'s alpine resorts, chances are you've seen one of James Niehues' paintings.

Niehues, of Colorado, has painted more than 250 trail maps for nearly 200 ski resorts around the world, including Whistler Blackcomb, Grouse Mountain, Sun Peaks and Revelstoke in B.C.

He's releasing a coffee table book, The Man Behind the Map, documenting his 30-year career. Niehues says his love of scenery has driven his work all these years. 

"I'm really into the scenery and I always have been. Terrain is exciting to me and that's what I want to work with," Niehues told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko. 

The first map he painted for a Canadian ski resort was for Whistler Blackcomb in 1992. Niehues repainted the map in 1998, and the mountain uses that map to this day. 

Niehues' hand painted map of Revelstoke Mountain Resort. (Submitted by James Niehues)

Interpreting the mountainscape 

Niehues hand paints all his trail maps. He says a painting is superior to a photograph when it comes to ski trails because the artist has flexibility to draw directions to individual slopes.

"You take a photograph of the mountain and you'll get one perspective ... but there's also trails on the backside of that mountain," said Niehues. 

Before painting a mountain ski trail, the artist takes aerial photos of the mountain from a plane. This allows him to get a vivid image of what he must translate for skiers.

"I want to get very realistic and I want to get images that come right from a bird's eye view, and translate that onto a sheet of paper."

Niehues sketching out a draft of Sun Peaks' mountain trails. (Submitted by Jim Niehues)

In order to generate the best maps for skiers, Niehues decided he needed to become a good enough skier to get down the intermediate slopes.

"When I started this job I didn't know how to ski really. I kind of learned on the job ... It was important for me to learn and get out on the slopes," he said.

The Man Behind the Map, a complete collection of all Niehues' mountain trail paintings, is available for pre-order now and will be released in summer 2019.

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With files by On the Coast.

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