Meet the Man behind the Map
Some heroes don’t wear capes, or in this case skis – but chances are you’ve been guided, moved and shaped by the mountain (with your handy map in tow).
James Niehues has been the mountain guide of mountain guides and throughout his 30 year career has depicted almost 200 ski resorts around the globe. For those bottomless powder days, creative tree runs and glacier gliding, he mightn’t have been with you he has always been close by (check that pocket!).
Creatively known as “that trail map guy”, this prolific artist sketches all maps by hand with an innate ability to see a whole mountain in one, even down to the parking lots. He has a way of warping and distorting a mountain to view all the ski runs, despite the valleys, gullies and glaciers that onlookers could never begin to fathom on paper. James treasures the challenge of having all the slopes show in a single view and at present is working on a 180 degree sketch of Mount Baker, a map which has never even fit into one. He has even guided our very own Falls Creek into this iconic mountain view, with that endearing comfort reaching to pull out the map you know and trust. His favourite resorts? New Zeland (hello QT Queenstown) for the simple fact there’s no trees. Sorry James, tree runs are our game at Falls.
Researching terrain in the Alps begins with aerial view. He always flies over the ranges, opting out of Google earth to depict a true mountain. Every map beings in pencil, perhaps denoted in a few different forms, trying out various angles before launching into the comphrehensive, colourful sketch that is finished with signature watercolour wash. He hit his peak in the 90’s, busting out a colossal 20 maps a year, all which take weeks to prepare individually.
A pioneer of the ski industry, Jim gives fellow skiers a dream, to ski the lines that are out of reach accentuated with a signature flair that is absolutely timeless. So next time you’re about to drop a line, sitting on the chairlift planning your next escapade, remember you get to ski in that environment – and you know where you’re going. Thank god (and Jim) for that.
words by natasha payne