Stoke for the Advendurist



Orienteering Takes on Art in the Snow

Written by : Joel Perrella

When I was a kid, I never could quite get the art of making snow angels. Plop on your back, wave your arms and legs and, ever so softly, attempt to get up off the imprint without ruining it. For whatever reason I was never able to make mine look like anything more than a cow tipped sideways on the snow. Simon Beck, a 54 year old Orienteering mapmaker from Southern England, has perfected the art form, albeit adding slightly to the complexity and size.

Beck has been making hectare-large, complex drawings in the snow since 2004, and of recently with the aid of social media, he is finally getting his expressions out people that appreciate his appetite for creating these giant intricate snowscapes.

The idea to walk for hours in the snow, more than 10, with what would seem to someone that did not know him as pointless meanderings of a madman, was hatched while he was still heavily involved in the sport of orienteering. Beck would train on Aiguille Rouge, in the French Prealps, after the ski lifts closed for the evening.

"One day I couldn't be bothered but wanted a little exercise, and I got my Silva type 54 compass I use for surveying orienteering maps and went onto the little snow covered lake outside the building I live in, plotted 5 points in a pentangle; and joined them up to make a star. I then filled in the 15 triangles that resulted and later added some circles and the result was impressive especially as there is a nearby chair lift that gives a bird eye view of the lake," explains Beck on his facebook page.

That was his first snow drawing, at the ski resort of Les Arcs, in Savoie France where he owns an apartment.

Although Beck has left the sport of orienteering (due to what he saw as an urbanization of the sport for Olympic inclusion as well as health issues with his feet) he still manages to transfer his mapmaking knowledge to his snow drawings.

While most of these drawing happen on flat surfaces with fresh snowfall, the challenge for Beck then becomes how to effectively photograph the finished work.

"I choose the site so there is a good place to take the photo… but getting the photo is a major problem, often it is finished at night or even if it is still light the site will be in shadow, so the key consideration as to when to attempt the design is often the weather forecast for the day after you intend to do the design."

Although it may seem easier to create these works on a slope, for ease of viewing, that also poses a unique set of challenges. "One of the problems with slopes is that one's feet move sideways and that spoils the effect," mentions Beck."Although there are a few drawings I have done on significant slopes. I only use slopes during long periods of fine weather when I run out of fresh level sites."

Although it appears Beck has certainly mastered his craft there are still improvements he would like to make, such as acquiring a means for taking aerial photos of his work without disturbing the snow as well as proper lighting to capture the images at night, since most of his pieces are completed then. Beck is also looking for a suitable means of projecting images on the snow to take some of the orienteering out of the equation and lessen the load of carrying the necessary equipment needed to start the first lines.

While this would help speed the process it seems also that it also removes some of the skill required that make the pieces so spectacular. However he assure that "the pleasure is in the finished product, not in overcoming the challenge of setting it out correctly using primitive tools. The setting out is the boring bit, too much like my job of orienteering map making."

With the growth of his art form Beck is hoping to one day produce a coffee table book, documenting all his pieces.


 photos courtesy of Simon Beck's facebook page.

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