High in the mountainous area of Savoy (Savoie) in France, strange apparitions, not unlike crop circles, appear in the snow in the winter months. There is no speculation about UFO and extra-terrestrials here though. These creations are the work of snow artist Simon Beck whose fame has spread far and wide thanks to his extraordinary and unique configurations.
Skiers are stopped in their tracks when they come across the sight of snow art and the first question everyone asks is “How does Simon Beck create those amazing designs?” We’ve heard people think he does it by pushing a tire through the snow, with a rake or other instruments on a pole and various other weird and wonderful techniques.
The truth is even more extraordinary.
Simon Beck creates magnificent patterns by walking in the snow wearing raquettes (snowshoes). This very physically demanding performance allows him to transform vast areas into stunning if transient artworks.
Asked how it all started, Simon, who works as a mapmaker, says that he owns an apartment in the ski resort of Les Arcs, Savoy, and spends most of the winter there. He began walking in the mountains of Les Arcs as a way of getting more exercise in 2004. For fun he started to sketch pictures in the snow. He started by drawing a simple star shape. Since then the intricate patterns have become bigger and more complicated and Simon spends hours alone on the snowy slopes and ice covered lakes of Savoy.
Simon first draws the patterns on paper and then using a compass and measuring tape, string, and an anchor with a clothes line attached, Simon paces the snow creating curves, triangles, geometric swirls and complex configurations. Some of the patterns cover an area as large as six football pitches. He says that on average it takes him 10 hours to complete a creation and that the freezing temperatures he endures are “not fun.” However finishing a pattern is tremendously satisfying especially as “usually the last several hours are at night using a head torch. Sometimes when it is nearly complete, a snowcat will drive along one of the nearby pistes [slopes], and the effect as its lamps light up the drawing is awesome!”
Some designs are chosen from the world of geometry or “crop circles.” Some are even named, and Simon Beck says that his three favourites to date are Mandelbrot set, Koch curve and Sierpinski triangle. The creative process in the snow requires patience and stamina and the ability to withstand the extreme cold. When asked, Simon advises “What I would really like would be a means of projecting a spot onto the snow so I could simply create drawings by following the spot and not have to do any surveying.” A lot of the inspiration for the snow art comes from the gardens in the temples in Kyoto “where sand is raked in patterns that are the closest thing I have seen elsewhere to the effect I achieve with snow.”
The very nature of this art, created from the temporary medium of ice and snow means that all that hard work and inspired formation can literally disappear overnight if fresh snow falls. This isn’t always the case, if there is no heavy snow fall “ghost” traces remain, sometimes for an entire season.
Simon Beck photographs his work and posts the photos on Facebook where he has a large and fast growing group of fans and admirers. Taken from above and in certain lights there is a mystical and breath-taking quality to the sight of the sophisticated and elaborate snow art displays. It is incredible to think that a lone artist can create such beautiful and enormous images. Simon says that his neighbours in Les Arcs at first thought him “a bit mad” but these days his snow art is creating huge publicity for the resort as his fame has grown.
When asked what the future holds for him as a snow artist Simon says “What I would like most would be a remote control aircraft for aerial photography. Something that can lift a heavy camera and hold it still for a good photo. The other thing I would like would be a good lighting system for night photography.” Judging from comments on his Facebook a lot of his fans would like to see more photos too.
There has been great snow but not much sunshine in Les Arcs so far this year and Simon has been disappointed with conditions. He says that he is considering visiting the Southern hemisphere from June to August, maybe Norway if conditions are expected to be good. A truly driven artist…