Life

This mapmaker's massive snow drawings have taken the internet by storm

Photo courtesy of Simon Beck

It all started with a star in the snow.

It was 2004 and Simon Beck, then 46, was living in Les Arcs, a ski resort in Savoie, France. He had just come off the slopes, and the idea came to him to draw out a pattern in the snow with his boots.

"There was a very inviting looking snow frozen lake outside of the building where I stay, and the idea just occurred to me, just to draw a star in it. That's how it all started," Beck tells CNBC Make It.

Beck's job at the time was map-making, and he was an expert in orienteering, an activity in which participants use a map and compass to navigate between checkpoints along an unfamiliar course. At first, the snow drawing was done mainly just for fun. He says the reaction most people had to his artwork was, "What a waste of time when you could be skiing."

Photo courtesy of Simon Beck

Taking snow art seriously

It wasn't until 2009 when Beck started to take his snow art seriously. He had started experiencing problems with his feet, and decided that he needed to quit running and make snow drawing his main form of exercise during the winter. Setting up his Facebook page in 2010 was what really helped give his artwork exposure.

Photo courtesy of Simon Beck

But Beck says his big break came when he landed a promotion in 2014 with New Zealand clothing label Icebreaker. The company launched "The Art of Nature" Simon Beck Collection, a range of merino wool clothing that featured designs inspired by Beck's snow art.

Beck has since been tapped by a number of other big brands including Corona and Maserati to create commission artwork of their logos. While he's also received compensation from magazines who print photographs of his artwork and from his coffee table book sales, Beck says he probably makes two-thirds of his money from commissions.

Beck's snow art has also taken him around the world: He's created drawings at Banff in Alberta, Canada; Powder Mountain in Utah; Yakutsk in Siberia, Russia; Zermatt, Switzerland and China. He's even swapped the snow for sand, creating beautiful masterpieces at the beach.

"I do drawings in the beach in the summer as well, [although they] don't last as long," Beck says, explaining the tide can wash away the sand designs, while his snow art often lasts until the next snowfall, anywhere from a few hours to eight weeks.

Now, a decade and over 272 snow drawings (plus a few failures) later, Beck's snow art has gone viral — his Facebook page, Simon Beck's Snow Art, boasts a following of nearly 300,000.

"I hadn't really foreseen what a big thing it had become," Beck says.

The drawing process

During the ski season at Les Arcs, which runs from mid-December to the end of April, Beck, originally from England, says he probably spends an average of two days a week on his art.

"The decision of whether to make the art is based on whether the next day will be a nice, sunny day," he says. Ideal conditions for a good drawing also include nine inches of soft snow on a firm base and no wind.

The drawings are often mathematical shapes — as a child, Beck was interested in geometry, and he studied engineering at Oxford University. So the designs are completed in stages, Beck explains.

The first stage consists of careful measuring by compass bearings. He determines distance simply by counting paces. The measuring stage can take about two hours, he says.

After the primary straight lines and curves are made, Beck explains that he adds secondary lines. For the final stage of the process, he shades areas of the design by walking back and forth, which normally takes around five hours. Overall, he says it takes nine to 11 hours, accomplished in one day, to complete a drawing (depending on the weather).

Photo courtesy of Simon Beck

"The key to the whole thing is to get the good photographs of the finished art," says Beck, who takes his own pictures.

But a day of drawing can be physically grueling — Beck's artwork typically covers an area of one to four hectares, equivalent to two to eight soccer fields, and can require a walk of 12 to 18 miles in the snow while wearing snowshoes.

So for Beck, his day kicks off with a breakfast of porridge and bananas. "It's got a lot of energy in it, doesn't get absorbed too quickly, and releases slowly throughout the day. And I find that very good for drawing," he explains.

Beck then packs up a backpack filled with supplies including food, warmer clothes and a compass and hops on a ski lift to take him as close as he can to the drawing site.

Aside from creating masterpieces in the snow, Beck, now 59, also spends his time skiing, hiking, jogging in the forest and mountain biking.

Adds Beck: "You need at least one day of rest after a drawing day."

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