A skier who hasn't encountered the work of James Niehues has either an uncanny knack for getting around unknown terrain, or only skis in the backcountry. For the rest, Mr. Niehues' graceful renderings of ski areas, in the form of trail maps, shape the earliest images in our heads of ski resorts we come to know intimately.
Twenty years ago, about when I became consumed with skiing, I spotted a screen saver program being sold at Barnes & Noble that featured dozens of trails maps of ski resorts from across North America. It was nine bucks, an easy purchase even for a college student. That screensaver became the background of much of my life, at school, work and more school. I came to know well the trail maps of scores of ski resorts I had never visited. I also noticed that the best looking trail maps shared the same camouflaged signature somewhere within their borders.
Most skiers know his mark, and have studied his work for collective hours. Now they can put a book of it on their coffee tables, via a Kickstarter opportunity that offers those who pledge $75 toward the book project a first-edition copy of the tome that will feature Mr. Niehues' trail map art work from across North America and Europe.
The effort has been dubbed "The Man Behind The Map."
Most coffee table books instill as much excitement in those who flip through them as the genre's moniker has come to imply: none. This book, for anybody who considers themselves a skier, offers a contrary experience, each interior spread delivering the reader to a new mountainside to be remembered, discovered, explored.
Just as the screensaver did for me many years ago in a form so less elegant, this book promises to make more ardent ski travelers out of those who study its pages.
What is a trailmap, anyway? Surely it's a map. But it's also a chart of possibility, a guide to adventure, a totem of aspiration. Next Year, that double-black on the north face will be skied. Nobody has captured this spirit so well as Mr. Niehues, whose dominance and ubiquity in this niche world of artwork speak to his mastery.
In some cases, Mr. Niehues' work can be more beautiful than the landscape it depicts. His portfolio has become a pillar of the North American skiing experience. Here is someone with a gift and and dedication whose effects have been felt on the industry for decades—and will continue to be felt for decades more.
With a vigor that can only be mustered by an fixated 20-something, I pored over Mr. Niehues' trail maps with dedication. Twenty years later, my feelings haven't changed. Whereas some of life's dedications and hobbies have faded on me, as much out of necessity as anything, skiing and imbibing in all things related to it has not. So it is with the same zeal as my college-aged self that I welcome the opportunity to usher this trail map obsession from the digital version of the past into what surely will be an even more satisfying analogue version of the future.
Needless to say, I bought two books.
Christopher Steiner is a New York Times Bestselling Author of two books, and the founder of ZRankings.