Snowshoeing with Simon Beck
Story by Marshall Birnbaum
The journey to complete a half-mile wide snow mandala begins with one step and pockets stuffed with bananas and chocolate chip cookies.
In the high-altitude snowfields of Powder Mountain, Utah, the world-renowned snowshoe artist Simon Beck demonstrated just how far the limits of human creativity can be taken. Equipped with nothing but snowshoes, waterproof gear, and a compass, Simon took to the fields of the mighty Wasatch mountain range and traversed well over the equivalent of a marathon to “draw” his large-scale ephemeral snow art.
Simon’s process begins with a drawing or printed image on a regular sheet of printer paper. Once the design is finalized, Simon carefully measures and calculates the steps necessary to enlarge the image for use in the field. Shapes like the Koch triangle or repeating hexagons, which happen to be the basic structural patterns for snowflakes, often make the most successful patterns in Beck’s eyes.
Once in the field, Simon begins by walking the perimeter of the design with the aid of a lensatic compass to accurately calculate his angles. Occasionally, the path of the sun influences the orientation and placement of the drawing, since shadows play a vital role in the visual success of each mural. After he finishes the outlines, Simon then begins retracing his steps, in militant fashion, to “shade” the drawings. This process requires less planning and is occasionally carried out by volunteers looking for some quality exercise or artistic inspiration.
Simon has been creating these large-scale ephemeral snow murals for roughly six years, traveling around the world to share his talents with art lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and powder hounds alike. The photos you see here mark the second time he has worked in the United States. Invited through the Summit AIR program, he plans to return to Power Mountain to create more mind-blowingly intricate snow patterns that perfectly capture the human journey through natural terrains, only to be eventually swept away by the wind or covered with a fresh blanket of snow.