Sisyphus on snowshoes

Photo: Simon Beck
When Simon Beck tramped the first patterns in a ski resort’s fresh snow, people in town thought he was crazy. Meanwhile, the persistent British man is working on his first photo book.

Like everybody living in a ski resort, Simon Beck cannot wait for fresh snow. However, unlike his neighbours in the French resort of “Les Arcs” he is not waiting for the steep powder descents, but flat open snowfields and big depressions in the snow. Simon then draws on these canvases made of powder snow. His art works are influenced by mathematical forms like the Mandelbrot set, the Koch snowflake or the Sierpinski triangle.

Classic: Simon turns a simple snow-making reservoir into a work of art. | Foto: Simon Beck

Simon’s career as a snow shoe artist started in 2004 when he needed a bit of a work out despite a day of skiing. Instead of the usual hike to the local mountain, he grabbed a compass, chose five points on a snow covered lake and set off. He connected the points into a star, then into a pentagon and finally filled the empty areas with circles. When he looked at his work from the little chair lift next to it, he was impressed. And so next time there was new snow, instead of ploughing it up going down hill on skis, he much preferred to cut a new pattern into the snowy virgin landscape.

“People thought I was crazy,” says Simon. Skiers still stop and wonder what he is actually doing. On Facebook, his page “Simon Beck’s Snow Art” already has 37,000 followers: “I want to show how beautiful the mountains and the snow are and that there are better things than constantly earning money only to spend it on things you don’t really need,” says Simon. He studied in Oxford and left his English home for snow and skis. He owns a little apartment in the typical new French ski resort in Savoyen. During the summer, he travels all over the Alps earning a living drawing maps for orienteering competitions.

Although the 55-year-old Brit works without aids, his art works are surprisingly precise. He draws the basic lines with the help of his compass and distinctive spots in the area. Radii are simply good guessing work. Concentration cannot slip – you cannot undo false steps in the snow.

Afterwards, Simon hopes for good weather. Only a good picture can document his ephemeral work. Quite a few times now and after eleven sweaty hours on snow shoes, the last one with a headlight, he has looked out into his white studio the next day only to discover 20 centimetres of powder snow have erased everything… Just like Sisyphus who always rolled the stone up the hill, Simon always stamps a new pattern into the landscape.

 

Bildergalerie: snowshoe art by Simon Beck

He prefers to work in areas where nobody else wants to go to: on the ice surfaces of reservoirs which are used to produce artificial snow. Nobody distracts him here, and he does not trample the powder snow for skiers. Before he sets foot on the lake, Simon makes sure there are no weak points in the ice. Thanks to his snow shoes, his weight is distributed over a greater area, but still, it is dangerous. “It is not a bad thing if people think I’m walking in a crazy location because it keeps them a good distance away from my art,” says Simon.

The snow artists gets free ski-lift tickets to do his artwork. He also talks about commissioned work, a photo book is in the making. There are enough ideas for new patterns. He has just returned from a summer trip. Up in the mountains, the first snow has already fallen and soon Simon will start trudging again. Just as Albert Camus wrote: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

 
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