SE3:EP4 - James Niehues: Man Behind the Maps

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By Ski Utah. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

We’ve all fantasized about our trips to the mountain by poring over detailed trail maps, plotting out each run of our ski vacation. The man behind those maps, James Niehues, has become somewhat of a cult hero in the sport after three decades documenting hundreds of resorts worldwide, painting each and every tree and showcasing perspective to make mountains bigger than life. Last Chair caught up with him at his art studio to learn more about his fascinating career and new book, Man Behind the Maps.

As a graphical designer in the ‘90s, Niehues was looking for a change in direction. He had grown up in western Colorado, not really as a skier but someone who appreciated the sport. He had left an advertising business in Grand Junction and moved to Denver. He had followed the work of Hal Shelton and, more currently, Bill Brown and the captivating trail maps they developed. So he tracked down Brown, got a test assignment and ultimately took over as the ski map painter of the time.

As he neared retirement a few years ago, friends urged him to document his life in a book. A fundraising campaign got the project off the ground. And the result is a keepsake every skier is going to want to have.

Last Chair caught up with Niehues in his studio, finishing up on projects and trying to keep up with the fan mail his book Man Behind the Maps has generated. In the interview he details his life as an artist and walks through the dramatically detailed process of creating a trail map painting from aerial photography to projecting onto canvas, airbrushing shading and painting in every tree - starting with the shadows!

It’s a fascinating look into an unlikely sport hero who has brought so much joy to tens of millions of skiers worldwide in his career.

44 episodes