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When Simon Beck, the 61-year-old renowned U.K. artist, woke up on Sunday, January 5, he found that high winds had completely erased his mural on frozen Lake Dillon, which he had spent eight hours working on the day before. But that’s just how it goes when your medium is snow.
“Working outdoors with the forces of nature is a lot different than working in the studio,” Beck says.
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The world’s first snow artist is making his debut imprint on Colorado and carving an elaborate ephemeral exhibit into Silverthorne’s snowy landscape from January 2 to 16—using only his feet.
Beck, with a sturdy pair of TSL Outdoor snowshoes, has created more than 330 designs in powdery locations around the world in the shape of everything from an intricate snowflake, a wolf, geometric patterns, and even a company logo. Over the course of this two-week project, he hopes to delicately pace out 10 drawings in various locations around Silverthorne’s natural playground—if weather permits. So far, he’s transformed North Pond Park into a massive snowflake, carved an even bigger “love heart,” as he calls it, into Maryland Creek Park, and even restarted his fractal design on Lake Dillon.
While Beck describes his engineering degree from Oxford University as “irrelevant,” his experience as a professional cartographer and competitive orienteer, which involves an outdoor race with mapping and mountaineering, has helped him navigate the natural snowy canvases.
He fell in love with the winter weather when he first learned to ski in 2002 and later moved to a ski resort in the French Alps, where he walked out his first design, a 40-yard five-point star, in a pair of hiking boots. Beck was quite pleased with the result, and years later, when he started to posts photos on Facebook of his creations around the snowcapped resort, his artwork garnered the attention it deserved. He started receiving requests for commissions and image rights, and what was once just a hobby has now transformed into an international career.
“It’s all thanks to the power of the internet for connecting me with people,” Beck says. “I feel privileged to be paid for something I love to do.”
With creations like a “twisted six-pointed flower” on Utah’s Powder Mountain and a wolf howling at the moon at the Lake Louise Ski Resort in Canada, Beck’s work is inspired by crop circles, mathematical imagery, and Vincent Van Gogh’s sharp and unrestrained style. The process for each mural is meticulous but rewarding.
To start, Beck plots out a rough sketch of his design on an A4 sheet of paper, but reminds himself “what you’re doing in real life is usually different than what you’ve planned the day before.” Then, he sets out for nearly two hours of precise measuring using a prismatic compass, pace-counting, and the occasional rope and anchor to measure circles’ circumferences. For four more hours, Beck plots points and walks out the base lines for his design, before strapping on his snowshoes to create some tracks for shading. Finally, unless the design is large enough for two days, the artist spends four to five more hours creating a geometrical border for the design and retires from his 10- to 12-hour physically exhausting day of work. Before the next snowfall comes to wipe away his tireless efforts, Beck returns to make some final touches and snap some photographs for his collection.
“Once you’ve recorded it in time with a photograph, it makes it all worth it,” Beck says.
On average, most of his designs are roughly 150 yards, around the size of three soccer fields, and throughout the day he usually walks two miles an hour. His largest frozen mural was the size of 10 soccer fields near his former French Alps home and took 22 hours to complete, but it led to one of his greatest disappointments when he wasn’t able to capture a good photograph before the wind swept it away. Despite his age, he has no plans of slowing down.
“My knees feel a bit weak this year, and I’ve been very careful not to stress them too much,” Beck says. “It’s not actually as hard on your body as skiing or running. It’s easy when conditions are good, but the problem is when the snow’s not deep enough. Every situation can’t be ideal, but I hope I’ll still be doing it in 20 years time. ”
Not only has Beck’s artwork in Silverthorne given the community a chance to witness the grandeur of his creations in person, but when Mother Nature wasn’t a fan of his first draft on Lake Dillon, the community was able to give back by jumping in to help him complete a new piece.
“Part of the experience is that it’s a very temporary art form, and you have to be there in the moment to see it,” says Sydney Schwab, Silverthorne’s arts and culture manager.
Everyday is a blank canvas for Beck, and although Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate, he’s adapted to the idea that you can’t always be the one in control.
“There are forces bigger than us we just have to respect,” Beck says.