Published: Feb. 6, 2017
snow & Ski Maps: Celebrating Winter in the Colorado Rockies. Earth Sciences & Map Library January 30th-April 28th

For many, winter in Colorado means one thing – skiing.  Whether traveling to the resort towns of Vail or Aspen or sticking closer to home at Eldora, skiing in Colorado is a way of life.  Not only a major tourist draw and economic boon to the many mountain towns with ski slopes, the sport has become an important part of the state’s identity and culture.  This collection of maps celebrates the impact skiing has had on the state of Colorado and the draw of the mountains that calls to so many.

The exhibit was inspired by the panoramic map that is located in the first landing of the staircase.  Titled “Ski Country USA” it was created by the late Hal Shelton.  Shelton, a former USGS field cartographer, painted natural-color maps that resembled satellite images years before satellites were ever launched, and worked for the Jeppesen Map Company during the 1950s and the 1960s.  “Ski Country USA” is a painting of the Colorado Rockies that includes a sampling of the many ski mountains that residents and tourists enjoy every year.  Shelton and his work served as a major influence on James Niehues, whose work features heavily in this exhibit.

Niehues, a Western Colorado native, has been drawing panoramic ski and trail maps for 30 years. These maps are designed to provide practical guidance for recreational visitors while also showcasing the natural beauty of the regions they depict.   Serving as visual guides to areas that can be confusing or disorienting to newcomers and even veterans, the ski trail maps give users a real sense of where they are and are works of art used in practical ways.  To create his maps, Niehues first takes aerial photographs from a small plane, flying over the mountains to get the lay of the land.  Creating composites, he uses light and shading to point out areas of interest for the skiers.  In a few instances, he’s even skied the resorts to get a better feel for the trails.  If you’ve ever used a ski map, there’s a good chance it was painted by James Niehues.

The maps in this collection represent many of the ski resorts in the Colorado Rockies, including Crested Butte, Vail, Aspen, Winter Park, Breckenridge, and Eldora.  Many of the maps display oblique – or tilted – views to allow for a three dimensional representation of depth.  Most are piste maps – that is, ski trail maps.  The rest of the exhibit features back country ski trail maps, aerial images of ski resorts, and various materials featuring Colorado ski history.  The Jerry Crail Johnson Earth Sciences & Map Library is pleased to display this exhibition of ski maps celebrating winter in the Colorado Rockies.  

For more information about maps in this library, contact or 303-492-7578.

For further reading, see:

Kratzke, P. (2015), Pursuing Perfect Ski Days: The Generic Work of James Niehues's Alpine Ski Maps. J PopCult, 48: 789–802.

Wood, Stephen. "Winter Pursuits: A Bit of a Piste Artist ; Going Skiing in North America? Chances are You'll have James Niehues as Your Guide. STEPHEN WOOD Tracks Down the World's Foremost Piste- Map Maker." The Independent, Oct 12 2002, pp. 4.