LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4) – For the past 30 years, a Colorado artist has been making a living drawing maps for ski resorts.

“It is nice to make art that is useful,” Loveland resident James Niehues told CBS Sunday Morning in a report that aired over the weekend titled “A trailblazing artist.”

James Niehues' panorama of Snowbird, Utah (credit:

Niehues’ panorama of Snowbird inUtah (credit:

Niehues, 72, revealed in the report that he wasn’t actually much of a skier when he first began his career. But as he started painting more and more maps showing the ski trails at resorts in both Colorado and around the world, he began to gain some carving skills.

“When I started these maps, I didn’t ski hardly at all, but I’m an intermediate skier now,” he said with a smile.

Millions of skiers and snowboarders — from beginners to intermediates to experts — now use Niehues’ maps, which have been made for nearly 200 different resorts. You might notice his signature on the bottom of the next trail map you hold.

Niehues says he never uses computers to generate any part of his panoramas. He starts by taking an aerial photograph of the mountain he has been hired to paint. After that he uses a projector to trace the outline of the trails. Then it’s time to begin painting.

James Niehues (credit: CBS)

James Niehues (credit: CBS)

While he’s working he uses a glove that covers up his pinky due to the water soluble nature of the gouache paint he uses. A single stroke of his paintbrush can make a tree appear.

“It gives the illusion that there are individual trees,” he said.

He also uses a hair dryer to dry the paint quickly.

Depending on the size of the resort, the process could take a few days or a few weeks.

The first map Niehues ever painted was of Winter Park. He got the job thanks to Bill Brown, who painted the majority of the world’s ski maps before Niehues began his life’s work.

Niehues told CBS he doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon.

“I have probably the best job in the world,” he said.


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