James Niehues: Man Behind the Maps

By Tom Kelly Nov 29, 2021
James Niehues has spent three decades painting 100s of resorts and making mountains bigger than life on paper. We caught up with him to learn more about his fas
James Niehues: Man Behind the Maps

As a graphical designer in the ‘90s, Niehues was looking for a change in direction. He had grown up in western Colorado, not really as a skier but someone who appreciated the sport. He had left an advertising business in Grand Junction and moved to Denver. He had followed the work of Hal Shelton and, more currently, Bill Brown and the captivating trail maps they developed. So he tracked down Brown, got a test assignment and ultimately took over as the ski map painter of the time.


As he neared retirement a few years ago, friends urged him to document his life in a book. A fundraising campaign got the project off the ground. And the result is a keepsake every skier is going to want to have.

Last Chair caught up with Niehues in his studio, finishing up on projects and trying to keep up with the fan mail his book The Man Behind the Maps has generated. In the interview, he details his life as an artist and walks through the dramatically detailed process of creating a trail map painting from aerial photography to projecting onto canvas, airbrushing shading and painting in every tree–starting with the shadows!

It’s a fascinating look into an unlikely sport hero who has brought so much joy to tens of millions of skiers worldwide in his career.

Jim at Altajpg
There’s always a bit of pride when you see your map live at a resort! Here James Niehues admires his own work at a slopeside trail map at Alta Ski Area.

Jim, as an artist, what were you seeking to convey through your maps?

“What's really important is to remember that we’re in the great outdoors. You get away to ski and you get up on that mountain and it's exhilarating. It's just a fantastic experience and that's what I really tried to get into all my paintings. Getting them down the hill is extremely important, too. So there are two vital uses for this map: one of them is to dream by, and the other is to guide you on the mountain.

Alta Airbrushjpg
Airbrushing is a key component of creating texture to both snowscapes and sky. Here artist James Niehues airbrushes some blue on the slopes of an Alta map.

How did you come to the amazing perspectives that just showed everything?

Well, the key to it is aerial photography for me. I can really visualize the mountain once I get up in the air. I'll start at about 2,000 feet above the summit and then work my way down and take all kinds of photographs, showing details of the mountain all the way down to the base. And by the time the flight’s over, we're flying at mid-mountain level.

Man Behind the Maps Book Coverjpg
The Man Behind the Maps book.

You’ve been all over the world, but have you spent a lot of time in Utah?

Oh my gosh, yes, Utah is my favorite place to ski. You've got great snow in Utah and the variety of ski terrain is just fabulous. And you know, I've got good memories up at Alta and Snowbird, and have spent a lot of time on the slopes of Canyons in Park City Mountain. I remember one time at Solitude Mountain Resort and I wanted to go down into a Honeycomb Canyon. It didn't look too bad, but it was a lot more than I could handle. Deer Valley was one of my first ones and I had the honor of meeting Edgar Stern, who originated Deer Valley Resort, and skied with him.

Park City Projectionjpg

A key phase of map painting is transferring from aerial photographs to the canvas itself, utilizing a projection system. Here James Niehues works on a painting of Park City Mountain.

Tom Kelly: |00:00:01| Today, Last Chair, the Ski Utah podcast is taking you to the studio of noted legendary ski map painter James Niehues. Jim, great to have you here on Last Chair.

Jim Niehues: |00:00:17| Well, it's good to be on Last Chair, it's as kind of synonymous with my situation, right?

Tom Kelly: |00:00:23| I know and you know, a lot of us are kind of bummed that you're retiring, but we have this amazing book that we'll talk about later to document some of the great maps that you've done over the years. We're just getting into the ski season right now, and I know that you are retiring, but are you going to have maybe a little bit more time to hit the slopes this winter?

Jim Niehues: |00:00:46| No, I've kind of hung up my skis. You know, I stay at the painting board quite a bit and so I don't stay in real good shape. I'm 75 and so I just figured it was better for my health to maybe stay off the slopes. I'm not an expert skier, so I'm an intermediate skier that skis with fear.

Snowbasin Mapjpg
A completed James Niehues map of Snowbasin before run names and other features are added as a graphical overlay.

Tom Kelly: |00:01:06| Well, as long as you have fun or you had fun when you're skiing, to me, that's all that really matters. We're going to talk about all aspects of ski maps. And I know that as a kid growing up in the sport, I was just captivated by maps. It was one of the things that really got me into the sport. What is it in your mind that really is so vital about what these maps have done for skiers and snowboarders to bring these places to life?

Jim Niehues: |00:01:36| Well, I think what's really important is to remember that they are the great outdoors, it's the, you know, you get away to ski and you get up on that mountain and it's exhilarating. It's just a fantastic experience and that's what I really try to get into all my paintings and getting them down the hill is extremely important, too. So there are two vital uses for this map, and one of them is to dream by and playing over, and the other is to guide you on the mountain.

Tom Kelly: |00:02:10| I love the dream by portion, and again, I remember very distinctly when I was a teenager back in Wisconsin and I was looking to make my first trip out West. I got all of the brochures and I opened them up and I look at these amazing maps and you just kind of dream about going down those runs. How did you eventually get into this? I know it's documented in your book, but give us a sense of what brought you into the world of documenting all of these amazing ski areas.

Utah Full Statejpg
Imagine painting a full state map including all of Utah’s resorts from north to south. Can you spot your favorite ski area? This map was commissioned by Ski Utah in 1998 and is a part of a two-page spread in Man Behind the Maps.

Jim Niehues: |00:02:43| Well, I moved to Denver at the age of 40 and was trying to make it on the streets doing illustration work, you know, just pounding the streets, trying to find jobs. And so I knew that Bill Brown, the previous trail map illustrator, was living in Denver. So I looked him up hoping that he would have a job for me. And he liked my portfolio. And we talked a lot and he'd give me a small job to do and said, Well, I have plenty of time on this, so I'll give you this and we'll see how you do. And then if it doesn't pan out, I can go ahead and do it. So I did that. I spent about a month on that thing, and it's just a little small illustration. I was trying to be sure that I mimicked Bill's illustration very closely and brought it back. He took it up to the client, the client thought it was Bill's. And then whenever he brought the illustration back, I signed it at that time and said, hey, I have other interests. Basically, he just turned over the trail map business to me, and all of a sudden I had a career and it just boomed.

Tom Kelly: |00:04:03| It is amazing. And looking back on this, there have only been a few developers such as yourself that have really reached that level of prominence. Certainly, Bill Brown is one, but he had a predecessor before him as well.

Jim Niehues: |00:04:18| He sure did. Hal Shelton And how did them during the seventies and then Bill did them during the eighties. And I've been in Hal's studio and Bill's, and they just really encouraged me and I was just whenever I'd enter their studio, it was like being in Candy Land. It was just incredible to see their work and be with them and hear how they did it. And, you know, they guided me along.

Tree Detail Three Phasesjpg
Yes, he paints every single tree! It’s a three-phase process actually starting by painting the shadows then adding the trees and finally painting in detail.

Tom Kelly: |00:04:52| What was it that inspired you? Were you a skier at the time? I know that you'd been in the art and the graphic design world, but was it just an outgrowth of your work there or were you motivated because of your love for skiing at the time?

Jim Niehues: |00:05:09| Well, you would think since I was born in Colorado, that I'd be a skier, but I grew up on a farm and we just never went skiing. So I learned actually while I was in the army in Austria and so I could get down the slope. In fact, I thought I was pretty good because at the end of the course, they had a little contest there and I had the fastest time down. So whenever I came home, I went up to the local ski area, I think, and I could really ski and I had a big surprise. I picked a run that was pretty narrow and an intermediate run, and I just couldn't slip on the terms I would go traverse straight across and try to turn and fall. And finally, I just walked off. I literally walked down the course, so it took me a while. But as I got into trail maps, I learned more and more.

Tom Kelly: |00:06:13| When Bill Brown gave you that first opportunity to do some sketches for him, can you tell us what the ski resort was at the time?

Jim Niehues: |00:06:25| Yeah, the ski resort that he was painting a little inset for was Winter Park Colorado. And it's the backside of Mary Jane. So that was my very first illustration. My very first contract was with Boreal out in California,

Tom Kelly: |00:06:44| Boreal, a relatively small area. But with those two under your belts, were you able to start picking up business pretty quickly?

Jim Niehues: |00:06:55| It was a little slow at first, of course, but you know, in those days you'd send out mailings and so I'd send out a slide. of each one of those along with a letter introducing myself and a recommendation from Bill. And it took a while, but by 1988, I think that was, you know, in 1987 why Vail came along. They signed on, you know, a funny story about that because I was with the Vail people and we were walking down the hallway. I was in behind the marketing director and he turned around and said, So you're the trail map guy now. And I turned around to see who he was talking to. But I guess I got there.

Tom Kelly: |00:07:51| I think you, I think you sure did. It's been fascinating to follow this through the years. I want to dive in now to how you create the maps, and I think that's the aspect that baffles most of us lay people as we look at these amazing depictions of the resorts. But you have an interesting process, which is documented very well in the man behind the maps book. Tell us a little bit about how your process works from start to finish and what are the key steps along the way to build one of these amazing paintings.

Jim Niehues: |00:08:31| Well, key to it is aerial photography for me. I can really visualize the mountain then once I get up in the air and, you know, I'll start at about 2000 feet above the summit and then work my way down and take all kinds of photographs, details of the mountain all the way down to the base. And by the time the flights over, we're flying at Mid Mountain, going down, downstream for sure to get out of there. But it the information is there and certainly to learn how to ski and be on the mountain slopes helps me to relate more to the slopes and to the skiers. Once I have those aerials, then I go into a sketch and I'll review everything that I have from the ski area, from their past maps to photographs that they may have. And I'll do the sketch. And once that's approved and this is a very comprehensive sketch and they'll go through that with a fine-tooth comb and get back to me and then I'll make those changes and go into the final rendering. And you know, I start out with the sky, with the airbrush, and once the sky and all the terrain with snow cover are on. Then I'll paint in all the tree shadows. And once the tree shadows are in, then the trees are painted in and then just proceeds on down the mountain to the buildings and the base area and parking lots. Once that's done, it's these days, anyway, it's we make a scan of it, and I then work the scan over and supply a file to the ski resort

Tom Kelly: |00:10:32| And about how long does this process take once you have your aerial photography? How long does it take to bring that map to fruition?

Jim Niehues: |00:10:43| Well, I had one that took seven years, but you know, I mean, that's a thank goodness they aren't all that way. The normal turnaround on these are going to be, you know, a month, two to three months actual painting time anywhere from like a small ski area. I could buy my. You know, in recent years, I could go ahead and produce those in a week and for a large ski area, probably three weeks to paint.

Tom Kelly: |00:11:17| Yeah, that's pretty remarkable to me. I want to go back to the point you made about painting in all of the tree shadows. First of all, you paint in all the trees and then you have to paint in a corresponding shadow. How do you visualize where the shadow should go? Do you have kind of a placement in your mind as to where the Sun is and how do you strategically come to that?

Jim Niehues: |00:11:40| Well, I've got to correct you, I put it in the shadows first and then

Tom Kelly: |00:11:43| You put in the shadows first. That is a fun fact.

Jim Niehues: |00:11:48| Well, what I'll do with that sketch is project it up on the painting surface and then I trace out every tree in not every individual tree, but every outline to follow the island around. And then I know exactly where those trees go. And if there's individual trees, of course, then I'll add those in. And so I know exactly where they're going to be. So I paint in my shadow first because whenever I paint in the tree, the tree will come down to the shadow and cover up the shadow. And it's much harder to paint in the tree first than the shadow later.

Tom Kelly: |00:12:34| It's just quite remarkable to me, you know? I mean, it really does speak, though, to the accuracy of the map and how you can actually use them for navigation. And you know, I know from having relied on trail maps for many years, you get a pretty good sense of where those tree islands are in the run and how accurately they're depicted. So again, you're going back to your aerial photography for all of that.

Jim Niehues: |00:12:59| Yes, I am. It's vital, I think, you know, I mean, if you're out doing the slopes and you are maybe coming through spruce trees and then you hit some quakies, I want people to know. Where on the map are they? And trees are big identifying forms on the slopes.

Tom Kelly: |00:13:22| So we are in a digital age now and a great amount of graphic design is now done. Digitally maps still are done with a good old-fashioned painting process. Have you looked at any possible advancements in digital that might help you or assist you and what you're doing?

Jim Niehues: |00:13:45| Well, I'm fairly computer illiterate whenever it comes to what the younger generation knows today, but I use it a great deal in the final steps. I'll use it to, you know, once I get the scan, I'll go in and I'll still do some color adjustments and some fine tuning to some different things. But you know, I just don't. I think there's a lot of digital maps out there right now, they've really kind of taken over and they're in the ski industry also, but they just don't portray what the human mind and hand can do to get that feeling in that romance the scene of the outdoors. And I think that's what's so overwhelmingly important. And so I hope it's not lost as I leave the market.

Tom Kelly: |00:14:46| I love the term to romance the scene. What are some of the techniques that you use as an artist to romance the scene and really put life into the trees and the snow and the surface?

Jim Niehues: |00:15:01| Well, it's hard to explain exactly, Tom, I guess it's getting some contrasts. And then also, I really use a lot of subtle chants and tones. For instance, I'll bring a ridge out by putting kind of a, if you will, a, well, just the tent of the trees in behind it. So, it looks like a mist. And sometimes I'll work in some clouds over the slopes to just give that feeling that you're high on the mountain and lots of times whenever you're skiing, you're in the clouds. So I think that's a lot of it. And just. You know, I don't know. Exactly how to form the explanation of what I do.

Tom Kelly: |00:16:01| I think you did a pretty good job there, and I have one other question relative to that for those who might not understand airbrushing and what that is. Can you talk about that technique and how vital that is for you to depict the sky in the clouds and other broad areas in the maps?

Jim Niehues: |00:16:20| Well, the airbrush is a tool that you can use it in a way that that it'll produce a very wide spray and a lot of color, or you can pull it down and use it for a very small detail so you can really come in on the slopes and form the the the bumps that they may encounter. You can. You can come in and shade the side of the mountain that is a steeper side of the mountain. And you know, you can just do it a whole lot with it. It's a very smooth technique. So it just produces snow. So very well, so much better than the brush will.

Tom Kelly: |00:17:09| And do you when you're using the airbrush, how do you mask out the areas that you don't want to hit with that color?

Jim Niehues: |00:17:19| But what I'm using is a water-soluble watercolor, so I can do it two ways, I can either mask it off with a brisket, you know, and you use a knife then to cut it out and Exacto knife so that you can expose the area you want to airbrush, or in many cases, in later years, I would merely just airbrush down to the line and then take water and lift the paint off to make that hard line where the shadow is cast against the snow. So, so there are several ways that you can do that.

Tom Kelly: |00:17:58| It's just fascinating. We're going to take a short break now. We're with James Niehues, the man behind the maps. We're going to come back in a little bit and talk about Utah, talk about the book and a few reflections back on a career of one of the greatest trail painters we've seen. We'll be right back on Last Chair.

Tom Kelly: |00:20:33| And we're back on Last Chair, the Ski Utah podcast today we are with James Niehues, the man behind the mountains. We're going to talk about the book, we're going to talk about Utah and a number of other reflections on an amazing career. Let, let's talk about Utah, Jim. I know that you've spent a lot of time here. You've done a lot of maps here, but can you share some stories about maps that you've done here in Utah?

Jim Niehues: |00:21:00| Oh, my gosh, yes. Utah is my favorite place to ski, actually, I know I'm from Colorado. I hope not too many Colorado people are listening, but hey, you've got great snow in Utah and you've got a great variety of ski terrain is just fabulous. And you know, I've got good memories up at Alta and Snowbird, and the canyons have spent a lot of time on the slopes of Canyons in Park City. So you have to understand I don't ski every mountain that I paint. Sometimes it just doesn't fit in that I visit the mountain, and so I'll work from material that they send me and I'll direct somebody to do the aerials for me. But I remember one time on Solitude. Well, I wasn't a real good skier at the time. It was early in my career the first time I painted the Solitude trail map and I wanted to go down into a Honeycomb Canyon. So, you know, I just stayed right on in there. It didn't look too bad, but it was a lot more than I could handle. And it took me quite a while to get out of that canyon and I get in those predicaments quite a bit.

Tom Kelly: |00:22:28| Well, you know, as as an artist, you've got to research your subject and you've got to dive right in there and I know what you mean about going back in honeycomb. But you know, I'd like to expand on that, though. I mean, Honeycomb is an interesting area. It's a little separate canyon behind the main mountain of sorts. And how do you map things like that? I mean, how do you create an overall map and include things that are maybe in a completely different angle or setting than the rest of the mountain?

Jim Niehues: |00:22:59| Well, you know, on any complicated mountains, there's always hidden slopes from any particular view. So what I have to do is come in and work with different perspectives, and it's a matter of kind of rolling back the perspective of a lot of the terrain that you'll see in my illustrations are really the point of view is from a higher point of view looking down where you wouldn't see a horizon. But then as I get towards the horizon, I'll roll it back kind of the only way I can explain it, but then include the sky. So it's a matter of positioning the points, the top of your lifts and what angle you put them at to get the steepness of the slopes per trade as they would ski. So yes, Honeycomb is kind of hidden back there, but a lot of the terrain is in that view. It's just the terrain right over the ridge that very expert skiers drop in and ski and it is all related and wooded and thick. So you don't really have trails there to represent. So I kind of show that particular one without a lot of the slopes showing and that allows me to know I will illustrate the point of entry into the area. And then it's kind of up to the skier to get down, get down those slopes.

Tom Kelly: |00:24:43| Do you often use inset maps, for example? In this particular case, would you be able to use an inset map or you maybe have a separate drawing of that particular part of the mountain?

Jim Niehues: |00:24:55| Well, in this part on Solitude, I didn't have to. But there are cases where insets are used. I try not to use them because people do get confused at times on exactly where the inset, where you come into the map and where you exit and so forth. And so I try to stay away from insets.

Tom Kelly: |00:25:20| You know, I'm looking at the map right now of Solitude and it really is quite remarkable to see how you've found that just right perspective, tilting the mountain and just a certain way where you actually could see both the front side and the backside. And it's an amazingly accurate depiction. If you're a skier going in there on how you get in and how you get out.

Jim Niehues: |00:25:44| Well, and just try to portray it like it's going to ski.

Tom Kelly: |00:25:47| One of the things about Utah that has long impressed skiers is how many resorts are right in the heart of the Wasatch. You drew a map once that included not just the Wasatch, but it included every ski area in the state and I still marvel at how you accomplish that in one map, even though there's a pretty good size gap in miles between the Wasatch and to the southern Utah resorts. Tell us about that particular project where you had to document all of the ski Utah resorts.

Jim Niehues: |00:26:25| Those kind of projects are really getting into and it's always a challenge, and it's just a matter of representing the terrain between them. But editing out. Everything that is not necessary to have in it. So, you know, I have the mountain range coming down to the south and then just pull in a little closer and tighter on the ski areas as you get down there again, it's using a lot of different perspectives in one. And my view, of course, is from a very high altitude. I imagine that view, if you were to put a hike on it would be from probably 18000 feet or so or maybe even higher than that. Twenty four or something. But it's just kind of working it in and working it, working it until the perspectives look right. And I'll refer to a state map or a TOPO map and look at it and and and make sure that that everything is relative, that that as I look at the illustration, I'm doing that that if somebody did look at a TOPO or a state map, you could say, Oh yeah, I see where that is. And that, I think is key.

Tom Kelly: |00:27:53| I'm looking now at the Utah state map that is in the book Man Behind the Maps. And here it is from 1999 Beaver Mountain up in the North and all the way down to the South, Eagle Point and Brian Head. And, you know, it's just an amazing perspective. Did you use aerial photography on this one?

Jim Niehues: |00:28:14| I used what aerial photography I had, and then some of the ski resorts at the time that I did that I didn't have anything. I don't think I had anything on Beaver. So I had already received stuff from Brian Head and at the time, Elk Mountain, is it? Yeah. And now it's Eagle Point, I think so. I had been down there and photograph those and of course, photographs many of them in other projects, as I had. So basically, I had photographs, aerials from all of those.

Tom Kelly: |00:28:59| What I really like in the book is being a Utah ski fan. You have so many different Utah regional maps that you have done. You have a quintessential Utah interconnect map, which shows the resorts right here in the Wasatch and how they interconnect. You've got a regional view of the cottonwood canyons. You even have the Utah Olympic Park. There's really no place in the country that has so much skiing in one compact area like this. I would imagine that you had a lot of fun working these maps. I'm looking right now at the Utah Regional View from Park City that was revised in 2015. These maps must have been a lot of fun for you to paint.

Jim Niehues: |00:29:44| Oh, absolutely, and it's really fun with the people and this whole ski personnel in Utah. You know, everybody is a great bunch of people and they just make it a lot of fun. But yeah, it's challenging. I always love a puzzle and and and you know, although it seems complicated, it just fell into place for me. The Utah Mountains and they are great subjects.

Tom Kelly: |00:30:18| You have decided upon your retirement to document all of this in a book. The book is called The Man Behind the Maps, legendary ski artist James Niehues. What was your motivation to put a book together? Not an easy project, but had you been envisioning this for some time before you pulled the trigger and got it done?

Jim Niehues: |00:30:40| I've been envisioning a book since the mid-1990s or the 1990s, you know, about 1995 or so, I thought, Well, I've done quite a few now. Maybe maybe I'll do enough to have a book someday. And it just got put on the back burner and it stayed there for many, many years. And it wasn't until a few years back that I was contacted by a fan that he just emailed me and it's Todd Bennett, and he's a ski enthusiast that they just kind of chased the snow around getting the best snow and. So whenever he said, Well, I want to buy your book, if you don't have it, I'd like to help you put it out. And I thought, Oh yeah, sure. You know, he doesn't know what's involved in putting out a book. He had no experience in publishing. So we got to knowing each other through the next few months and he worked at Disney and had a background that I thought, well, maybe he does understand and I got to know that he was somebody that really was passionate about what he did and was thorough in his approach to things. And so I decided Dora and I decided, let's go with him. And the funny thing is that just about the time that we're ready to sign the contract with Todd Bennett and Ben Farrell, why I was contacted by a publisher in New York City and it was a big publisher and they wanted to do my book.

Jim Niehues: |00:32:32| And so we had the decision to make. Do we go with a known publisher? We know it will get published or do we go with the ski enthusiast? And these two guys that have never put out a book and we decided to go with them. We did it because we felt like their enthusiasm. Being skiers and so forth would add so much to the book. And it has. And Todd has done a marvelous job in promoting it. When he went on Kickstarter and we didn't know what to expect. We set our goal very low because if you don't make the goal, you don't get the funds. So we set it at $7,000 and we ended up at $500,000, which meant that we could jump in and really do the book right. So Ben looked up all the different publishers around the country and the world and decided on Italy. A company in Italy produced specialized in art books. So it was sent there after a lot of production that took place, and it was all handled by Todd and Ben. And it's just been an extreme success. We've now printed off over a hundred thousand copies. And I think that we sold somewhere around 70,000.

Tom Kelly: |00:34:08| Those are really remarkable numbers.

Jim Niehues: |00:34:12| I had no idea that the book would do that.

Tom Kelly: |00:34:15| Well, the part that is actually a little bit emotional for me as a lifelong skier is the decision that you face to go with a known publishing house or to go with people who are passionate about the sport. And I think that's one of the things that are truly unique about skiing and snowboarding as a sport is that it's about the people and the culture. And, you know, I don't know those two guys, but they clearly brought that passion in and they were with you every step of the way.

Jim Niehues: |00:34:45| Oh, they sure were. And there's no way I could have put out this book by myself, and it would have never been a success that it was without them.

Tom Kelly: |00:34:54| And the book was actually what year was the book published in Jim?

Jim Niehues: |00:35:01| Oh, well, I don't know, it just been it's just been over a year, is 2019 OK? No, no. Yeah, I think 2018 that Christmas, because then it turned into 2020 and we all know what happened then.

Tom Kelly: |00:35:23| But did you get a chance at all when the book first came out? Did you have an opportunity to go on a book tour or sign some autographs and really kick the thing off? Or did you have to get into quarantine right after that?

Jim Niehues: |00:35:39| Now we had the opportunity to get out, and I did book signings in Boston, and actually our very first book signing was right there in Salt Lake City. So it was just amazing. I was afraid I was going to be one of these guys is going to be sitting back in the corner twiddling my thumbs and wondering what to do. But oh my gosh, the line was clear out the door. We ran out of books. And that happened at every book signing we had, it was just incredible. I had no idea that. That I would draw that kind of crap.

Tom Kelly: |00:36:21| Well, you really have done a good job with this and really struck a chord with skiers. I want to touch on your wife, Dora, because you had mentioned her. She really played a big role in your whole career.

Jim Niehues: |00:36:35| Oh, absolutely. If it wasn't for her, I would have never painted a trail map. It's as simple as that. She was a driving force that wanted to move to Denver. I wanted to stay in Grand Junction, Colorado and try to make it there. So when we moved to Denver, that's when I looked up Bill Brown. So I mean, how basic can you get? That's it. It would have never happened if it wasn't for her. And then, of course, she did all the books and the mailings and all this other stuff that left me free to, to paint and to create these maps. So she was key. From the very beginning and continued to be and is today, you know, she helps me and all my decisions and in which direction we go. And she was certainly key in picking Todd and Ben. You know, she felt good about the relationship that we had, and so I relied very heavily on it. And she. I'll have you know that even in the studio, she would come in and I'd say, Hey. Do I have all my shadows and she would go through and she would find some trees without shadows and I would put them in?

Tom Kelly: |00:38:03| That's a lot of detail. Let's take a look into the future, and I don't know where the crystal ball is going to go. But as you look, look into the next generation, do you see any new artists coming up or is there new technology that may come out of the scene? What is the next generation of trail maps going to look like?

Jim Niehues: |00:38:26| Well, I sure hope that the success of my book and the obvious acceptance of my hand-painted maps and the effectiveness of them, I'm hoping that this will be a clear message to the resource that this is what you need to continue with and Rad Smith in Bozeman, Montana, we've been communicating now for years and he's following up. He's got a very nice style and it isn't exactly like mine, which is good. I think we think it'd be interesting and refreshing to have a different style in there, too. So. So I hope that the hand-painted map will continue to be a better representation than what the computer can do.

Tom Kelly: |00:39:27| Just one last thing before we head into our Fresh Tracks section. In a reflection back on your career, you were honored with induction into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2019. I know you're still waiting for that induction to actually take place, but it is scheduled coming up this March. What did it mean for you when you heard that you had been so honored to gain induction into the Hall of Fame for your work?

Jim Niehues: |00:39:58| Blown away. I mean, I. You know, I'm just my background is from a small farm in western Colorado, and skiing has never been a part of my life until I was 40 years old and started painting trail maps. So when Jason Blevins that wrote the book said to me, he said, Jim, you need to be in the Hall of Fame. And I'm going to nominate you. And I just looked at him kind of odd and said, Are you sure? And so it's been overwhelming and so gratifying that I had this much to do with an entire industry. You know, I painted all these maps all by myself and. Spent 30 years, 35 years doing it, and that was rewarding enough. But this is just fantastic.

Tom Kelly: |00:41:06| Well, it's the nature of what skiing is all about, and you are certainly an integral part of skiing over the last four, four decades. So we thank you for your work. With that, we're going to launch into Last Tracks. I have a few final questions for you. Hopefully, we aren't going to stump you too much, but it's been wonderful to talk to you, Jim. Do you have any idea on how many different ski resorts you've painted now over the years?

Jim Niehues: |00:41:35| Well, I painted right at two hundred in that, you know, painted many of them more than once. So as far as the actual. Paintings go, I probably have painted 400 or 400 and 50 maps and sketch that many to sell around 800 different images, and don't forget that I have not only done ski maps, but I've done regional hiking maps too.

Tom Kelly: |00:42:10| Do you have any idea in all of those maps how many trees you've painted?

Jim Niehues: |00:42:19| Uh, a lot. I would. Well, I mean, I don't know billions, I guess quite a few. I've got a technique down and it's a little, you know, my wrist moves very fast.

Tom Kelly: |00:42:40| How long does it take you to paint a shadow and an accompanying tree?

Jim Niehues: |00:42:47| Well, I'll paint. Helping a group of trees, I never just paint one. Usually, that will be the detail in the last, but doing a forest. I'll come in with a brush that's loaded with paint and just produce a texture, if you will, a back and forth tree shape more of a triangular vertical triangular shape. And then once that is laid down, then I'll come back in with water and dissolve that. So it flows and makes a lot of tents in there. And then I'll just come in and I had a highlight, which is snow and all a shadow. And so I guess you could say I paint every tree three times and then the shadow, of course.

Tom Kelly: |00:43:38| Well, when you paid a few billion of them, you're going to get the technique down. I think I should hope I have. Oh, I think you do. Do you have? And I won't ask you for your favorite Utah resort, but do you have a particular memory of a Utah ski resort over your career?

Jim Niehues: |00:43:57| Oh, yeah, I certainly do. I guess the one that kind of stands out is Deer Valley was one of my first ones and I had the honor of meeting Edgar Stern, who originated Deer Valley. And skied with him, and I think he was 88 at the time that I visited with him and boy, he could just be right. He was such a good skier and I was basically learning. So, you know, it was just incredible to see him at that age, skiing the way that he was skiing. And then I remember that we came back and in his residence, we sat down and we started talking about the Deer Valley map and how he wanted to develop it. He really wanted to try to produce a three-dimensional paper map. So we got to have the paper and we were sketching the different slopes on it and trying to fold it. And so he wanted something that would work flat, but then whenever you connected the poles, it would make a map that showed it on all sides and well, we had to toss it in the wastebasket. It just didn't work. But I could see that he was one that really looked thoroughly into the different possibilities and kind of stretch the imagination. And I remember the last time I was doing Alta so that was a great experience and really enjoyed the time on the slopes with him. And then there's the time at Solitude and Honeycomb Canyon and trying to find my way out and if I was going to make it or not.

Tom Kelly: |00:46:09| So what's the great news? Well, we're happy to see that you found your way out of Honeycomb Canyon. I'm going to leave you with one more question. I know this is really a tough one at stumps a lot of people. But in your case, I'd like you to describe in just one word, just one word what your maps have brought to skiers and snowboarders. So in one word, what have your maps brought to all of us who have enjoyed them and found our way around mountains with them? Imagination, I love it. You mentioned that a minute ago, and I think that is a great word, imagination looking at those maps and just imagining where you could go. Great word.

Jim Niehues: |00:46:55| Well, it's been a great honor and a book, and I've been very fortunate. That my maps are pinned up on bedroom walls of kids all over, you know, and I just couldn't. There's no artist that could ask for anything more than that.

Tom Kelly: |00:47:13| James Niehues, thank you for joining us on Last Chair. Appreciate having you today.

Jim Niehues: |00:47:20| Well, it's been a joy being here, Tom, and I really enjoyed this time.