Catching Up With Jim Niehues

More than a year after we told Jim’s story, the artist sheds light on an exciting, new endeavor in the works

Jim painting a trail map for Mt. Hood Meadows (OR)

GREAT BIG STORY (GBS): Tell us about the book project and where the inspiration came from to compile all these years of artwork?

Jim Niehues (JN): I have been harboring this notion of a coffee table book since the mid 1990s. I starting thinking maybe someday I might paint enough resorts to make a coffee table book and began writing in my contracts that I retained a book right. I had not seen any such book and thought it would be a book that would sell in every resort town. And, I didn’t want it to be “trail maps” with all the trail names and clutter covering the scene. I wanted to show the beauty of the resort. Through the years it always seemed to be in the back of my mind and as I approached my late sixties it seemed urgent that something had to be in the works soon or it might not be a reality in my life time. A little over a year ago I got an email from a fan and avid skier saying he would like to help me put out a book. Todd Bennett was the right man, with knowledge of promotion and a thorough understanding of the ski industry and the sport. And, it was the right time as I was nearing the end of my career of thirty years and had compiled right at 200 resorts to my list of clients. Todd and his partner Ben Farrow have put together a team of fellow skiers with Cory Grosser and Associates designing the layout and graphics, Jason Blevins, a writer at the Colorado Sun with decades of covering the ski industry and snow sports.

GBS: When will we be able to get our hands on a copy and how can the ski community support?

JN: The book will make its debut Summer 2019. Right now we are asking for people’s support. Through Kickstarter we are raising money to cover the initial production run of the book. We have great rewards for supporters, check out the Kickstarter campaign at “The Man Behind the Map” or my website at www.jamesniehues.com..

GBS: Just out of curiosity, had you ever thought about sketching maps of other outdoor areas, like national parks? Are there sketch books or easels in your home with other types of artwork? You doodle sometimes, right?

JN: In the early years of my career I had to seek out other projects than ski resorts to make a living. I’ve painted golf resorts, regional views for visitor and tourist bureaus, hiking maps of national parks and a couple island maps.

GBS: Do resorts offer nice perks to artists who can draw trail maps? Asking for a friend 😉

JN: Perks, well I do get to ski free on some of the best slopes! Certainly a perk is experiencing great scenery from a bird’s eye point of view. I’ve traveled to ski resorts in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Other mapping projects have taken me to Fiji, Scotland and Hawaii. My wife accompanied me on many of these trips.

GBS: What’s the largest sized trail map you’ve ever made?

JN: Most all of my paintings of trail maps are within a 30x40 inch format. These painting are scanned and reproduced as mountain signage on the slopes as well as the trail maps you use as you navigate the mountain.

GBS: Have you ever collaborated with other artists to make trail maps or has it always been a one man job? After you retire, how will resorts make skiers aware of changes to their maps?

JN: The ski industry is a small market for an artist. On an average, I would work on 15 to 24 projects a year, making it manageable for one artist. This meant that I could control every project from start to finish. A resort will use one ski map illustration for a very long time meaning once you paint their map it’s possibly the last time you will work for them. Though, many of them have come back to me for a different perspective after an expansion.

After my retirement the resorts will make alterations on my maps with photoshop where they can, and someday seek out another artist to create a new image, hopefully it will be hand painted and carry on a great tradition of trail map images.

Niehues surveying the mountains from above

GBS: Favorite ski lodge and why?

JN: I’ve been in a lot of ski lodges and I must say that every lodge is GREAT. They each have their own personality and story, each special.

GBS: Lastly, we’ve got some skiers in the GBS office who I’m sure are up for someplace new and exciting. Any SUPER challenging trails you’d care to suggest? The snow has already started falling in some parts of the northeast…

JN: Lastly, the terrain I see from the air while photographing the resorts are exhilarating. Over the years I have seen so many great slopes I cannot begin to name them all. I think you just have to seek information on each, rely on what you have heard from fellow skiers…and, find a good trail map and dream a little!

Jim clearing for liftoff!