If you’ve ever been lost on Park City Mountain Resort or wondered what run you’ll take on next at Deer Valley you’ve probably consulted with James Niehues. Niehues has hand-illustrated nearly 200 ski maps throughout the world and is releasing a book his art.
James Niehues has been hand painting ski resorts for over 30 years, he explains how he got his start, picking up the work of another ski map illustrator.
“I was looking for work as a freelancer. I had just moved to Denver. I decided that maybe I could look up Bill Brown and maybe he’d have a little bit of overflow or something that I could paint on. I visited with him. He was ready to move in another direction he wanted to get into video. So he kind of turned it over to me right there, after he saw my portfolio and what I could do.”
Niehues explains his process to create a map.
“It begins with aerial photography. Aerial photography is very important to get the feel of the area. The slopes, the cliffs, the rocks, just to identify the different types of trees also on the slopes. If it’s a smaller mountain and their budgets are tight instead of me going on location, I’ll direct somebody there to get up and get the shots that I need. From there I take those photographs, I probably shoot 100 or more at a ski area, and I’ll put together a sketch. From the sketch, the sketch is approved and then we move on into the painting. It’s a hand painting, with water color.”
During his career Niehues has painted nearly every resort in North America, as well as mountains on the other five continents that have ski resorts on them. He says that small changes on the maps the resorts can alter themselves although he has to step in for any significant change to the map.
“At a certain point, whenever they have quite a few changes and they’ve got another big one come up. Then they’ll come back to me and I’ll go back in on the original, in most cases, and repaint that area. Then get a new scan and they’ll have new files.”
Niehues has illustrated nearly every ski area in Utah, he reflected on his work in the Wasatch Back.
“Deer Valley is a favorite of mine. They all are, well how can you say favorite if they’re all? But each one has their character and their dynamics and their challenges. Deer Valley is particularly challenging because it has some backsides and is a multiple peak ski area. It’s interesting to work it and be able to come up with a way to put it all on one sheet of paper. I’ve done Deer Valley I think three or four different times. The Canyons, I’ve done them probably five different times. The latest one being Park City Mountain Canyons together. Which was quite a challenge in itself with all those different slopes and canyons.”
Niehues is publishing a coffee table book featuring his art work. The online Kickstarter had an original goal to raise $8,000, the project has raised over $250,000.
“Wow it’s like wow what happened? It just keeps rising. There’re people out there that really want to see this book. It’s in production right now. We’ve got Cory Grosser and Associates that’s putting it together. He’s an international designer and a skier. This whole team was put together by Todd Bennett the publisher and everybody that’s working on it is skiers. I’m really excited about it.”
The book will be ready for publication is June of 2019. Niehues says his art serves multi-faceted purposes.
“You know it’s a dream piece. It’s not just a map to get down the hill. It’s a piece that can attract people to an area and also to reminisce about.”