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My Economy

Painting the ski industry, one trail map at a time

Sean McHenry Nov 20, 2019
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James Niehues works in his home studio in Parker, Colorado.
Lindsay Pierce Morgan

Back in 1987, James Niehues was a Denver graphics designer looking for a job. He decided to drop in on ski trail illustrator Bill C. Brown. “[I] walked in looking for extra work,” Niehues said. “I walked out with a career.”

James Niehues works in his home studio in Parker, Colorado.
James Niehues works in his home studio in Parker, Colorado. (Photo by Lindsay Pierce Morgan)

Over the course of that 30-year career, Niehues said he created nearly 400 paintings for over 200 ski resorts. But it wasn’t always easy.

“You don’t have a steady flow of ski maps to paint,” Niehues said. “Some years, 10 [ski resorts] will decide to have a new trail map, and then I’m very busy. And other years, it may be down to two or three, and I’m looking for other avenues of income.”

Niehus painted the trail map for Copper Mountain Resort, Colorado, for the 2018 season.
Niehues painted the trail map for Copper Mountain Resort, Colorado, for the 2018 season. (Photo by James Niehues)

But despite the ups and down, entire generations of skiers have likely seen his handiwork.

“In fact, the very first map I even produced, which was [Boreal Mountain Resort], California, is still in use,” Niehues said. “And that’s 30 years later.”

Niehues’ work is featured in his book, “The Man Behind the Maps: Legendary Ski Artist James Niehues.”

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