The artistry of ski resort trail maps


ski trail maps, James Niehues, ski resorts, art, artist, hand painted

When you go to a ski resort and head up the lifts on day one, chances are you have a trail map in your ski jacket. And you might not have realised that 300 trail maps have been hand painted. That’s right – hand painted.

James Niehues started painting trail maps back in 1988, when he painted Colorado’s Winter Park. He has since meticulously created over 300 ski resort maps, of ski playgrounds on five continents, including famous places like Aspen, Whistler, as well as places in Australia and New Zealand. James said: “Each view is hand painted by brush and airbrush using opaque watercolor to capture the detail and variations of nature’s beauty. In many instances, distortions are necessary to bring everything into a single view. The trick is to do this without the viewer realising that anything has been altered from the actual perspective.”

James Niehues, trail maps, ski resort, Man Behind the Maps, art, artist

Painting the resort takes months, with James first taking to the skies to get the lay of the land. The detail of the mountains, the trees, the lift lines and buildings is quite astounding and beautiful. Take a look at the photo of his Telluride map below and note the two towns – Telluride, at the bottom, and the Mountain Village over the ridge. The details is a wonderful representation of what the resort is like, surrounding peaks and lifts.


Sun Peaks, Canada, James Niehues, art, artist, hand painted, trail maps

James Niehues: The Man Behind the Maps

In 2018, James hatched a plan to raise money to produce a coffee table book showcasing his art and to act as a chronicle of his life’s work. He used Kickstarter and launched his appeal in November of 2018. Over 5,000 people supported the campaign, making it the highest supported art-illustration project on that platform. The book went ahead, with the end result being a stunning book that will be popular with any lover of skiing, mountains or, just for those who appreciate beautiful outdoor scenes.

James Niehaus, ski maps, ski trail maps, The Man Behind the Maps

The 292-page book includes background on trail map making, James Niehues’ career and the impact he has had on the industry. It also includes 200 ski resort maps in beautiful, full colour.

Sun Valley, trail map, James Niehues


Hall of Fame

James has had such an impact on the ski word that he is being inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. It was meant to happen in March 2020 at Sun Valley, however due to the pandemic that has been pushed back to 2021. He is also being inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame.

A great Christmas gift

This could be a great Christmas gift for any ski lover in your family. You can order it HERE

You can also James at work in this video – click HERE