If you have ever spent time on a ski slope, whether it's in America, Australia or New Zealand, chances are James Niehues has been your guide.
At 75-years old the Coloradan artist is the talent behind more than 430 hand-painted maps used by more than 200 ski resorts around the world, including New Zealand.
Now, after 35 years, Niehues is hanging up his paintbrushes, celebrating the end of an impressive career with a one-off show at the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame.
As a final contribution to the industry, Niehues will auction two of his most valued original maps, Telluride and Snowmass and donate all proceeds to the Museum and Hall of Fame.
The job of a map painter is an unusual one, so it's no surprise Niehues fell into it by chance after moving from Grand Junction to Denver in 1987.
Working at a Denver print shop, Niehues met Bill Brown, a resort-map artist who gave Niehues his first project as a map painter: a small trail map for Winter Park Resort. Niehues had a knack for the craft, Brown was ready to retire and the rest, as they say, is history.
The timing may have been perfect but Niehues said his career wasn't just down to chance but also his ability to see, then capture, a mountain in its entirety.
Anyone who has seen his exquisitely detailed maps, with their distinctive pastel colouring and minute detail, will no doubt agree.
I really like to do the mountains in New Zealand, because there are no trees there
Niehues starts each map with an aerial photograph of the mountain, taken ideally by helicopter or from Google Earth. The mountain is then sketched onto a special parchment paper called vellum before detail and colour is added using airbrushes and watercolour paint.
A capable skier, Niehues learned in Europe during his time in the Army, taking leave with friends to hit the Swiss slopes. The skill served Niehues well in his career, as skiing a mountain allowed him to better understand the navigational experience.
According to Niehues, only two other artists have done this particular job; American Hal Shelton who pioneered the craft in the 1970s and his predecessor Bill Brown.
The word 'artist' is used intentionally as all three men would consider the beauty and feel of the paintings to be just as important as their function.
In 2018, Niehues immortalised three decades of work in a book titled "The Man Behind the Maps". The concept came to mind in the mid-nineties after Niehues realised he would likely create enough work for a book but said it didn't become a focus until later in his life.
"I started realizing, I'm 72 now, so it's time to get it going," he told Outside in December 2018.
Anyone who doubted the demand for such a book simply needed to look at its Kickstarter campaign. The project saw 5,156 backers pledge US$590,088 (NZ$853,332), breaking the record for the highest supported Art-Illustration project on the platform.
From Breckenridge to Vail, Niehues has painted more than a few world-class mountains but told Outside he had a soft spot for slopes in New Zealand.
"I really like to do the mountains in New Zealand, because there are no trees there," he said.
Demand for work and love of the craft has kept Niehues coming back to the drawing board for longer than planned.
However, when he eventually does hang up his pencils, he said Montana artist Rad Smith is a promising protégé.