Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Fascinating Story Behind the Trail Map in Your Pocket

For anybody who's made some turns, we've ALL at one time or another looked at the signs or read the map.  But, did you EVER wonder about where it came from?  Is this an art, a science, a GPS?

Last week, I came across an article in, a great publication about ideas and how they happen. This is the story behind the 'typical' ski area trail map, the traditional design, and the man who so uniquely makes it happen.  The article also emphasizes attributes of general unique career niche's, and key points that orient toward success. The author is senior writer for, Matt McCue.
Enjoy!  Joyce

After reading the article, let us help you pick the best resort for YOU; and we'll help you make it the best ski-vaca EVER! Pick your resort survey

Monet of the Mountain: How a Ski Maps Painter Owns His Niche Market 

For this upcoming ski season, the 70-year-old has designed the trail map for the newly-combined Park City and Canyons ski areas, now America’s largest ski mountain.
Niehues’s mastery of a single métier may sound familiar. One day you design something relatively obscure for a client, and they recommend you to a colleague. The referrals snowball until pretty soon you’re the go-to book jacket, wedding invite, or font designer, whether or not that was your intent.

So how do you thrive in a small (but lucrative) market niche? Niehues [pronounced “Knee-Hews”] takes his approach to the extreme—he designs nothing but the best ski maps in the world. And he has succeeded in this endeavor for the last 30 years by adhering to the following key tenets that are just as applicable to any creative looking to dominate their niche market.  

Befriend the Current Master

Niche artistic fields are small and likely already owned by a few major creative players. Take the ski map industry. There are roughly two dozen large ski resorts in the U.S. and a ski map redesign is a relatively rare occurrence. The industry can only really support one cartographer.
So follow Niehues’s lead and don’t try to immediately compete against the current masters. Instead, look to them for guidance. They are valuable resources who have both artistic knowledge and a firm understanding of how the business works.
A one-time advertising designer, Niehues was 40 years old and unemployed in the mid 1980s when he decided to try his hand painting landscapes. The most prominent landscape painter in Colorado at the time was Bill Brown, who did ski maps. “I love puzzles and it was intriguing to take the mountain terrain and show it as a trail map,” says Niehues. Brown had a monopoly on commissions at the time, so Niehues reached out to Brown and asked if Brown needed any help.  
Brown actually did need an extra set of hands and because Niehues had expressed interest, he had Niehues touch up a few of his existing maps. When Brown decided to leave the field shortly thereafter, he passed his jobs on to Niehues, including one to illustrate Winter Park’s Mary Jane mountain in Colorado. “It was one artist to the other,” says Niehues. “That’s the way I’m going to be when someone else comes along.” 
Niehues eventually converted the Mary Jane illustration into 35mm slides that he sent to every U.S. ski resort marketing manager. He added a note that read: “A quality illustration reflects a quality ski experience.”
The sales pitch worked. Vail, the largest resort in Colorado, called to set up a meeting. “I remember the Vail marketing manager saying ‘You’re the man,’” recalls Niehues. “I turned around to see who he was talking to and then I realized it was me.” With an assignment from the most prominent ski resort in the U.S., Niehues was off and running on his own.

Adapt to the Medium  

The more unique the field, the more distinct the creative process. Truly embracing a niche also means being adaptable with your creative process. Be brutally honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to use special tools or adjust your technique to fit the medium. Niehues, for instance, realized he needed a prop plane and an arm sling.
He begins most trail map projects by taking a flight over the mountain and photographing the ski area from above. Back at his basement studio in Denver, he uses the photos to create a full-sized black and white trail map sketch.
Niehues sketching out the map by pencil based on the image of the mountain.
Niehues sketches out the Park City Mountain map based on the image of the mountain.
Once the rendering is approved by the resort, Niehues projects the sketch onto his painting board and traces a pencil outline of the projection. Then he paints. Larger geographic features, like the sky, snow and shadows, are airbrushed.
Niehues airbrushes the larger geographic features, like the snow and the shadows.

Niehues undertakes the trees in stages, first using a fine point brush on the lines and then a wet brush for a watercolor texture. No detail is overlooked. Trees on the upper portion of the terrain are bluish while those further down the slopes are green to reflect the amount of oxygen they receive at different elevations. 
Niehues paints the trees in multiple phases.
Niehues paints the trees in multiple phases.
In his heyday, Niehues put in an eight-hour shift at the board, seven days a week. “I was painting so much that my muscles would cramp up and I couldn’t hold my arm up,” he says. “I developed a sling that hung from the ceiling that would hold up my arm so I could paint.” Let that sink in: The next time you’re feeling tired mid-project, remember—a sling, just so he could keep going.

A large ski map such as Park City’s can take more than three weeks to produce. 
To make the map the most accurate, Niehues has to adapt to the medium. He must think like a skier, not an illustrator. “I don’t worry too much about the exact width of a run, but rather how it would ski,” he says. “The best way to show the trails is by interpreting the experience.”
At this stage, Nihues has completed the top of the Park City Mountain map and still needs to add the evergreen trees and village details to the lower half of the map.
Niehues also augmented his income by producing summer season mountain maps for clients. It was a shrewd move: As clients expand their business—like the ski resort industry promoting their resorts as warm weather destinations—find ways that you can provide (read: monetize) your services to amplify the new offerings.
Ironically, Niehues never skied before he started making trail maps and he rarely has done it since. “I have skied about five percent of the ski mountains I’ve painted,” he admits. “But what is important to me is that I have been on the slopes of the mountains I paint and I know that ski area very well.

Imagine that!  It's all downhill from here!  Opening day happening everywhere.  Treat yourself to a white world soon :-) CALL US!


Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Yay, we got hit with snow last week. 10 inches in Vail in just one night and much more to come!
I bet many of you are wondering about the opening and closing dates for this upcoming season?
Well, here is an overview of our favorite resorts:

Vail :: November 20, 2015 - April 10, 2016

Beaver Creek :: November 25, 2015 - April 10, 2016
Breckenridge :: November 13, 2015 - April 17, 2016

Keystone :: November 6, 2015 - April 10, 2016

Park City :: November 21, 2015 - April 17, 2016
Heavenly :: November 20, 2015 - April 17, 2016

Northstar :: November 20, 2015 - April 17, 2016

Kirkwood :: November 21, 2015 - April 10, 2016
*Please note that all scheduled open and close dates are subject to weather and snow conditions.

A-Basin in Colorado already opened a couple weeks ago and look at this picture my friend took last week

                                                                                        Photo by Bennett L.

Does this not want you to get on the slopes?
If you haven’t booked your ski vacation yet, get in touch with me and I will help you with the planning! The best thing: you don’t pay me a single dime!

What are you waiting for? The snow is calling!

Have a great week!