It’s possible you’ve never heard of Simon Beck. But after this, you won’t be able to forget him or his wintery creations. Beck makes snow art—intricate and precise drawings—in virgin snow with nothing but an expedition compass and a pair of snowshoes.
Since 2004, 55-year-old Beck has lumbered into the freshly fallen snow at Les Arcs in the French Alps to trample out his distinctly geometric patterns, footprint by footprint. He has completed 160 drawings to date—145 of them in Les Arcs, where he has lived for the past 10 years. Each drawing takes the artist between six hours and two days to complete, an impressive physical feat aided from years of competitive orienteering. “After skiing one day, I didn’t feel like training so I thought, I’ll go make a pattern in the snow—it’s less strenuous,” says Beck. His first drawing was a five-point star.
“In 2009, I realized the state of my left foot was getting worse and decided running was not a good idea,” he says, “so my exercise regimen became hiking in the summer and snowshoeing in the winter.” Beck is fit. He has a lean, tautly trim frame, a substantial salt-and-pepper beard, and his skin is golden but weathered. “I was growing too old for competitive orienteering so plodding about on level snow was a low-grade activity.”
Beck literally walks for kilometres, all alone, in the snow to create his drawings. He spends hours creating each design just to have it covered by snowfall or have the mountain winds blow it away across the valleys. “Gradually, the reason [to continue with his art] has become about photographing my drawings. I choose my sights where I have a good vantage point to take photos. What counts is the photographs—this is the key, as without that I have no work.”
The spring season (when daylight hours are longer and the temperature atop the mountain peaks is still cold enough) has optimum conditions for Beck to create. And so, we find ourselves on a train in Switzerland en route to Jungfraujoch, a mountain range in the Swiss Alps at an elevation of 3,454 metres (11,333 feet) where, for the first time, Beck will plod through the snow with a handful of journalists to create a drawing. “Symmetrical drawings must be precise. Animals, etc. are more forgiving,” says the mountain man.
Watching Beck work is a lesson in precision. He walks carefully but swiftly, with sketch and compass in hand, and stops only to survey bearings with his Silva Type 54. There is no hesitation in his step, often picking up speed to a jog. At this pace, Beck cannot be weighed down and so is outfitted in layers of Icebreaker. He sometimes walks lines multiple times to get them deep enough so the angle of the light creates dimension.
It is difficult to visualize what the finished drawing will look like when all we see is snowshoe track after snowshoe track after snowshoe track. “When you make a mistake you make sure it’s not too noticeable,” laughs off Beck. We join in, walking with great care, to create the wool of the ram’s head.
New Zealand–based company Icebreaker has tapped Beck to launch the brand’s new Art of Nature product series, a collaboration with artists who use objects found in nature in their work. The Simon Beck collection for Icebreaker—20 garments with designs modelled after what Beck has created by snowshoeing in the Alps—will debut in October.
We finish the drawing just in time to catch the 17h40 train back to Grindelwald. Simon Beck, 10 journalists, 22 feet, and five hours of snowshoeing—that’s what it took to complete the drawing of the Icebreaker merino ram’s head. Later on in the evening when we are enjoying a meal together we are all eager to know if Beck is satisfied with the work. “The wool looks like wool,” he says, “that’s the important thing.”
At GPS coordinates of 8.04331E and 46.54957N (as provided by the Swiss Alpine crew) who knows how much, if any, of the drawing remains.
To view more Simon Beck Snow Art visit his Facebook page.