February 15, 2016 Summit Team

Standard Examiner Article: Thousands of steps create snow murals on Powder Mountain


By Benjamin Zack

Visual Journalist at The Standard Examiner

Simon Beck describes his work as map-making in reverse.

With little more than a mental sketch, a compass and a pair of snowshoes, the British artist heads into the mountains to find a landscape that doesn’t yet exist. It is only after days of pacing that the scenery he is looking for becomes visible to everyone else.

Over the past decade Beck has gained fame around the world for his murals in the snow that depict intricate geometric patterns. The snow art can cover several acres but are made up of nothing more than tens of thousands of snowshoe footprints.

In February, Beck returned to Northern Utah for only his second snow art project in the United States. He is spending nine days designing snow drawing on Powder Mountain as an Artist in Residency with Summit-Powder Mountain.

Marshall Birnbaum, Summit-Powder Mountain’s art director, first reached out to Beck in 2014 after seeing his work online. Birnbaum said he not only likes the aesthetics of the murals, but he also likes the spirit of the art.

“It’s social,” Birnbaum said. “What’s cool about it is it gets people active and it gets people together and then it creates this beautiful pattern which shows off the beauty of the landscape.”

The following year, Beck was hired to come out to Powder Mountain and create his first snow art in the United States. The mural that Beck created in 2015 was his largest ever, roughly the size of 12 soccer fields.

Birnbaum said the response to the Powder Mountain mural was amazing and this year he was invited back during a weekend of activities for Summit supporters.

On Friday morning, Beck, Birnbaum and two members of the Summit community hiked out from the Hidden Lake lodge to a hillside covered in open snow half a mile to the east. After three days at Powder Mountain, Beck had five murals in different stages of completion.

With a background in orienteering, Beck will often lay out the outlines of the artwork using nothing more than a compass before “shading in” the open areas with help from volunteers. Each specific mural has more to do with the available space than any preconceived design.

“These patterns, to my mind, are sort of something obvious,” Beck said. “If you try and plan things in advance, when you get there you find some reason why that plan does not make sense and then you’ve got to start again.”

Friday’s design starts as a curved hexagon with six curling spokes connecting in the center. Each line is made up of three sets of snowshoe tracks. The plan for the morning is to fill in the space between the spokes with an alternating pattern of tracks and untouched snow. As the first two volunteers begin making checkerboard footprints, Sandy Hill follows behind with a ski pole to lightly mark the next trail.

“I am a meditator and I love the idea of walking meditation,” Hill said.

Hill lives in Los Angeles but was at Powder Mountain for the Summit members’ weekend.

“I think that the idea of participatory art is really exciting,” Hill said. “It’s not that often that we get a chance to participate in large scale art projects.”

As the volunteers slowly fill in the open area, Beckwalks along the edge and offers directions. Beck said some of his projects are large group efforts while some are completed by him alone. With the completion of the five pieces on Powder Mountain, his lifetime total number of murals will reach 223.

This unique artform all began for Beck in France 11 years ago.

“It was just a bit of fun after skiing one day,” Beck said. “I thought ‘I want to go do something outdoors that involves some gentle physical exercise.’”

Beck was staying at a ski resort in France and below his apartment was a frozen lake covered in virgin snow. He headed down with snowshoes and a compass.

“I just marked out fives points … joined up the five points, made a five-pointed star and that’s how it started,” Beck said.

Since that time, his snow art has grown from a hobby into a job that takes him around the world. In addition to his traditional geometric patterns, Beckhas also been commissioned to illustrate corporate logos in snow-covered fields and on frozen lakes.

The sizes of his work also vary. In fact, the largest drawing he ever did was during his previous trip to Powder Mountain. Even the “smaller” murals are the size of three soccer fields and take a huge amount of effort.

“It’s very hard work making these snow drawings. A really big snow drawing in one day is equivalent to hiking up and down Mount Blanc,” Beck said, referring to a mountain on the French-Italian border that rises more than 15,000 feet.

Beck will keep making that trek on Powder Mountain for another week. As of Friday morning, he had the outlines of four murals waiting to be shaded in. There were also openings for new projects to potentially be started, but much of that will depend on the weather.

“There’s some bad weather forecast for the weekend and the next week,” Beck said. “Even a small amount of snow will wreck a drawing if there’s a high wind.”

But all of that is part of the life of his snow art.

“I love the ephemeral quality of this,” Hill said. “It reminds of a giant Tibetan sand mandala.”

The Powder Mountain murals may be visible for weeks to come or they may disappear before Beck boards a plane and flies to his next snow-covered canvas in Switzerland.