The ski season has begun: Timber, North Slope and Deer runs are yours to enjoy. Ah! fresh air, powder, pine trees, and ski trail map. Where's the heated picninc room?
For years and without noticing it -if you practice winter sports- you've had Pierre Novat's artworks under your eyes. More than 35 years of career, a peaky signature with a flake by way of dot on the i and thousands of fir trees to his name: Pierre Novat is the designer of French ski trail maps. I say "the" because he is the only one. A high altitude job!
Illustrations by Pierre et portrait by his son Arthur
A profession as rare as the Yeti, since he long had the French monopoly in France. Today, his children Frédérique and Arthur have picked up the torch, following their fathers' footsteps.
Any good ski runs map painter must be equipped with gouaches, brushes and a good brain. Have you ever wondered how the maps could show all the trails at the same time?
The ski trail designer distorts, flattens and recreates a skiing area that is more or less close to reality by manipulating the convergence lines. It beautifies the resort for skiers. It is therefore impossible to rely only on Google Earth or a simple photograph, otherwise a few parts of the mountain would disappear. Some companies like Kaliblue now offer their digital services, but without ever equaling the artist's blueprint.
In this video, Pierre Novat unveils his creative technique. Helicopter photos, reconstitution of the massifs from photographs, pencil drawing then gouache and finally aerosol. Hours of work for an ultra realistic result.
Across the Atlantic, a single man is devoted to the same exact job for almost all the best American ski runs: James Niehues. In 1980, full of the desire to embark on a career as a landscape painter, he simply decided to present his portfolio to Bill Brown, the only ski trails painter at the time. A real niche and cool job, even in the United States.
Bingo! Brown digs his work and happens to be a little overworked. He asks Nieuhes to alter his maps. A few years later, Brown will hand his white empire down to Nieuhes.
Just like Novat, Jim Nieuhes thinks like a skier rather than an illustrator to create perfect runs. "The best way to illustrate the trails is to interpret the sliding experience." To avoid the hazards of seasonal orders and the associated wage dips, Nieuhes takes orders 3 months in advance. One should count between $3,500 and $15,000 per map, several weeks of work, plus the rental cost for an airplane or helicopter.
We let you meditate on your future career transition, Jim Nieuhes having perhaps not yet found his worthy heir. Have a good ride on this!