What is your calling? There are millions of occupations out there. Some professions are well-known such as banking, medicine, or teaching. But there are hundreds of careers that are unique and, outside of their milieu, their contributions go completely unnoticed. James Niehues fits the latter. As a painter, he is definitely not the only landscape artist. As a cartographer, he is also not the only map maker. What sets him apart? He is one of just a handful of ski map painters. In the ski world, James Niehues is the man behind most of the ski maps in the US and the world. He’s so well respected among this subculture, he has been called “the Picasso of the Piste,” “the Norman Rockwell of ski resorts,” and the “Monet of the mountain.”
As a skier, I am very familiar with James Niehues’ work and his painstaking process. Prior to putting pencil to paper, Niehues takes a series of aerial photographs and amasses numerous Google satellite images as he puzzles together a realistic representation of a resort. In the end, his maps are incredibly accurate, down to every detail including cars in the parking lot. He manages to realistically capture a resort that has multiple trails, back sides, and several peaks in one single image. Thousands of skiers have unfolded a trail map to find their way from one trail to the next, never realizing that they are looking at a masterful piece of art adorned with James Niehues’ signature.
This week, James Niehues announced his retirement from ski trail map making and that will be selling his original works. James Niehues is a treasure who has left an indelible mark in the skiing industry. He surely met his calling and, I neglected to mention, that he started out as a graphic designer and only stumbled upon his life’s calling to become The Man Behind The Maps.
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