Paul E. Anna: High Points
December 8, 2011
So I love GPSs and google maps and mapquest and all of those apps and programs that can get me from point A to point B.
But is there anything in the world better than sitting on a ski lift, on a new-to-you mountain, poring over an actual ski map? From your perch high above the snow you can trace the lines you’ve just skied with your fingertip, plot out your next run, or, my favorite, plan how to maximize the time you have left in your ski day. Ski maps may be a relic from an analog age but they beat any digital form for the fun of finding your way around the hill.
I was reminded of this last week when I read an article in this very paper about one of my favorite artists. Grand Junction’s James Niehues is to ski maps what Monet is to lilies, Jasper Johns is to American flags and what Damien Hirst is to sharks. That is to say he owns the genre. Since 1987, when he stumbled into the business of painting ski maps, this former advertising agency owner has been helping skiers find their way up and down ski hills all over the world.
Niehues has completed maps for mountains from Ascutney, Vt., to Valle Nevado, Chile, and from Alyeska, Alaska, to Thredbo, Australia. Big mountains, small mountains and, of course, our mountains. If you look at the Aspen Highlands painting on the 2011-2012 Aspen/Snowmass Trail Map you’ll see his traditional block signature at the bottom left hand side slightly covered by the orange “mountain details” box. I can’t find the distinct signature on the Snowmass, Buttermilk or Aspen Mountain maps but I know it is there. Likely covered by some inappropriately placed piece of information.
I say inappropriately placed because a Niehues deserves a signature. The man not only creates images of beauty, he also creates objects of accuracy. The maps must be anatomically correct, so to speak. All angles, black, blue and green slopes, names of runs, stands of trees and hazardous zones must be clearly delineated to help skiers be safe and help them get the most from a day on the slopes.
I may be prejudiced in my admiration for Niehues, but it is genuine. A few years ago when the old Aspen Highlands was being demolished to make way for the new, I happened to obtain a metal map of the mountain that hung in front of the Exhibition lift. It currently serves as the defining feature of my mountain abode and I lean my quiver of skis against it. Each ski day as I gather my things I admire the blue sky and the shape of the hills as Niehues depicted them back in the days before the Bowl became Highlands defining feature.
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In any event, I’m sure that you’ll agree, the ability to pace out a winter’s afternoon by organizing first one run, and then a lift, and then the next so that you get the very most out the ski time you have is one of the sport’s joys.
And nothing helps a skier do that better than a James Niehues map.
You can see all of James Niehues ski trail maps at http://www.jamesniehues.com