When This Artist Sees a Blank Canvas, He Gets Out His Snowshoes

Simon Beck walks in winter wonderlands to create “Snow Art”—and send an environmental message.

January 17, 2017

Courtesy Simon Beck

Simon Beck has a seriously impressive track record.

Using nothing but the prints of his snowshoes, the British artist creates elaborate geometric patterns in freshly fallen snow. Each of his large-scale “Snow Art” pieces takes up to 12 hours to create, during which time Beck painstakingly walks as many as 18 miles. The finished pieces cover anywhere from 2 to 10 acres—but not for long. The alpine artworks dazzle lucky passersby for a short time before wind or new snowfall replaces them with another blank, white canvas.

The idea came to Beck in 2004 while he was spending the winter at Les Arcs ski resort in the French Alps. On a whim one evening, he snowshoed a five-point star and liked the effect so much that he just kept walking. Since then, Beck’s feet have etched 240 increasingly complex designs.

The artist first draws up a pattern on the computer and works out the order in which he’ll walk the lines. Once out in the field, a compass helps him navigate his way through the design. Beck strategically places his gear in spots he’ll pass about once an hour, so he can grab a snack as he tromps by (as you might imagine, such high-altitude art requires a lot of energy).

Courtesy Simon Beck

What started out as an enjoyable, if challenging, pastime for this avid outdoorsman has evolved into a job. Ski resorts, car manufacturers, and clothing companies have all commissioned Beck’s work.

But Beck says beyond the artistic and commercial appeal, this work has an environmental message. “It’s an appreciation of the snow and the winter.” One of the organizations Beck has worked with is Protect Our Winters (POW), a group dedicated to mobilizing the outdoor sports community to demand climate action.

Global warming’s effect on winter recreation is a serious concern for Beck’s seasonal home in the Alps, where he does most of his work. For every one degree Celsius of warming, the average snowline in the Alps rises by almost 500 feet. The region’s species, too, are moving upward and northward. And a recent report by the European Environment Agency predicts that up to 55 percent of Alpine plants could lose more than 80 percent of their habitat by the end of the century.

So far Beck has left his mark not only in the Alps but in Siberia, Norway, Japan, Argentina, and Chile. In February 2015, he completed his first Snow Art piece in North America for Banff National Park (see video below). California’s Sierra Nevada range, the Tetons in Wyoming, and New York City’s Central Park are on his wish list, too.

Wherever Beck’s snowshoes take him next, we’ll be tracking his footprints.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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