With just a compass and a pair of snowshoes, Simon Beck creates art

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. We got another few inches of snow here in Boston over the weekend. I feel like I’ve said that a lot this year. I can’t possibly calculate the miles I’ve trudged in the snow this winter, so let me introduce you to Simon Beck. Simon Beck creates snow art by walking for miles in snowshoes, in the process making the most astonishing large-scale designs in the snow, like a 300-foot-high image of a wolf howling at the moon. He spoke with me earlier today from his latest project near Salt Lake City, Utah.


Simon Beck: It’s just an orienteering exercise. If you imagine orienteering, you’ve got a map of a piece of woodland and you follow where you’re on a map to find some control points, which are hidden by the course setter. This is the same process--you’ve got a map and you just use your orienteering skills to walk around the main lines in the map to mark out the key points in the map, and then the second stage is a join the dots exercise to join these measure points together with lines that may be straight or carefully judged curves. Then the third stage starts, which is just shading in the shaded areas by walking backwards and forwards with your snowshoes until the job is complete.


Werman: Were you trained as an artist or is this your own invention, this whole process?


Beck: I bought an apartment at a ski resort about ten years ago and quite soon after I moved in, I just made a drawing on the lake outside of the building where I lived, a frozen lake covered in snow, and it just seemed like a bit of fun to do after skiing one day. I just felt like I needed some exercise, I wanted to do something that’s not too strenuous and I decided to make a pattern in the snow. I had no idea how good it was going to look when I first made it; I was quite amazed when I saw it from the ski lift the following day. That’s how it started.


Werman: Here’s a thing about what you do: it’s a femoral art. When it snows again, your work disappears. Does that make you sad, when it goes away?


Beck: Not when it’s provided that I’ve gotten good photographs of the end result. That’s what you get to keep. Really, if you looked at it from a strip commercial basis, the sooner it gets destroyed, the better, because it prevents other people from taking their own photographs and possibly selling them.


Werman: Tell me what you’re doing in Utah. What is your project there?


Beck: Marshall has invited me over here to be one of the resident artists for a week.


Werman: Marshall being…?


Marshall: That’s me. I’m the art director at Summit Powder Mountain.


Werman: Hi Marshall.


Marshall: Hi!


Werman: What have you and Simon Beck talked about him doing this week?


Marshall: What makes Powder Mountain so special is that it’s an inverted topography, so what that means is you drive to the top of the mountain and you can look out below and you can see the entire mountain. I saw Simon’s work online and I thought it would be a perfect canvas for an artist like Simon. So, the residency is focused on artists who appreciate nature and understand the environment and also create these astounding works. So, Simon kind of fits the description perfectly, so I invited him out.


Werman: Simon, how many pairs of snowshoes did you bring on this trip?


Beck: I just brought one--French snowshoes. I mean, I’m flying so I can’t bring a great deal. But one is enough provided it doesn’t get broken.


Werman: Simon Beck creates snow art with those snowshoes and his work is something you really need to see. We've got pictures at PRI.ORG. Simon Beck, great to meet you and thank you very much for your time.


Beck: Thank you very much.