Astonishing Success on Kickstarter Campaign Launched by Iconic Ski Map Painter, James Niehues

By Local Lexi Dec 28, 2018
Ski area trail map artist, James Niehues, reacts to reaching 4,000% of his fundraising goal on Kickstarter for his new coffee table book.
Astonishing Success on Kickstarter Campaign Launched by Iconic Ski Map Painter, James Niehues

If you ski or snowboard you’ve doubtlessly unfurled, memorized, scrutinized, and admired one of James Niehues’ hand-painted masterpieces. Niehues, or Jim, has been the most prolific painter of ski area trail maps going on thirty years now, building on the legacies of artists Hal Shelton and Bill Brown. His watercolor depictions of ski resorts encompass countless mountains across the globe, showcasing every aspect of each ski area for its guests.

Jim first began tinkering with the idea of gathering his prints in a coffee table book around twenty years ago. His pipe dream finally gained momentum when a few avid skiers approached him this summer with a plan. On November 14, 2018, Jim and his small production team launched a Kickstarter Page: James Niehues: The Man Behind the Map. Their goal was to raise $8,000 by January 3, 2019 to help cover production costs.

As you can imagine with any Kickstarter project, a great deal of uncertainty looms before the launch date. The evening before, the team nervously considered their goal and hoped for the best. By mid-morning on the first day, over $50,000 in pledges had flooded in. On day two, as the team began to fathom the impact of Jim’s legacy in snow sports, the campaign had raked in $70,000 and the groundswell continued to snowball.

When I spoke with Jim on the phone last week, $300,000 in pledges had been made. It is now the 4th highest-grossing Kickstarter project in the Art and Illustration Category. With just over a week remaining and no signs of flagging, the project is now supported by more than 3,200 backers pledging over $362,000. In the time it took me just to proofread this article, 70 more chionophiles had joined the cause to support Jim’s book. The viral ardor Jim's project has received is a testament to the role he has long played in enhancing people's experience outdoors.
I’m just a farm boy from Colorado, I don’t even have any formal art training.

Jim’s response to the incredible swell of enthusiasm is simply humble awe, “I don’t have proper words for it. It’s extremely gratifying to know that there are people out there that appreciate my work enough to put money up front to support the book. Mind boggling. I’m very humbled by this. I’m just a farm boy from Colorado, I don’t even have any formal art training. I learned everything on the job.”

The intensity of the demand to become a patron of Jim’s work likely stems from the fact that skiers and snowboarders have never had to pay for it. A trail map is a free, portable, foldable, lightweight, and dynamic piece of art that fits in your pocket. Thousands of people have the pleasure of viewing and using Jim’s artwork every day.

Press Release ImagejpgPhoto by: Lindsay Pierce Martin
When visiting a new mountain, the trail map is the first thing you reach for. You may pull it out over lunch and plot which areas still require investigating. Later on, over beers in a convivial pup, you may pull that map from your pocket, a little more crinkled now, to recall the day’s best runs or the most spectacular crash. Jim’s maps are the mechanism by which memories of a great day on the mountain are etched into your appreciation for a particular landscape.

The demand for Jim’s work shows no signs of abating. He’s been trying to retire for years. “Right now, I feel as though I am busier than I have ever been. On deck, I have Ski Santa Fe in New Mexico, Mt. Bachelor, Oregon, Cardrona in New Zealand, and a remake for Sun Peaks in British Columbia.” Jim confesses his calendar is packed and this year the requests have continued to roll in. “Maybe I’ll retire next year,” he wistfully says, quickly followed by, “It’s not really a job, it’s a passion!”

Jim employs meticulous care when crafting his work, "It’s very important to depict the mountain at a point when shadows are cast across the slopes,” he affirms. It is as though Jim has captured the ideal day you'd want to find yourself visiting each mountain. Stripped of their map legends, logos, trail names, and text, Jim’s paintings have an ethereal quality to them. It’s not difficult to imagine yourself descending the flanks of any one of these mountains, breathless and full of joy.

James Niehues: The Man Behind the Map
  will provide ample inspiration for future ski or shred trips and ignite fond memories of treasured days in the past. The project is in good hands, as the members of the Kickstarter production team are all avid skiers and big fans of Jim's work. Says Jim in his humble way, “They have their heart in this project. It’ll be neat.”

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