Snow Art Showcases Beauty of Winter

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Simon Beck's icy creations

Photo: Simon Beck

Nature can be fleeting in its beauty and winter can be particularly ephemeral. Enter Simon Beck, an artist who captures the season’s elusive beauty by carving intricate geometric designs into snowy landscapes. Using his own eyes for precision, Beck tramps across white mountaintops and frozen lakes in France simply wearing briquette snow shoes.

We spoke with the artist about his snowscapes, his process and his plans for future pieces on a warming planet. Pictured here is a piece he did at the Les Arcs Ski Resort in the French Alps.

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Hours of wintry work

Photo: Simon Beck

One imagines it would take days to complete such complicated designs, however, Beck says that each piece averages about 10 hours to “really do it properly,” though he will leave a design unfinished if his feet become too uncomfortable.

Beck, who is an experienced orienteer, explains that the setting out of the design is initially done using a simple handheld orienteering compass. Next, he determines the appropriate distances on his designs by using pace counting or measuring tape. Curves are sometimes judged using a clothesline attached to an anchor at the center of the design. Then Beck adds in the remaining lines and shadings by eye.

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An ephemeral life span

Photo: Simon Beck

Just how long do these designs, like this one created at Les Arcs, France, last in the snow? Beck says that they usually stay in place until the next heavy snowfall and occasionally even longer.

"At one extreme in 2011, the first design of the season, completed on Jan. 3, was seen as a ‘ghost’ underneath up to three later designs for the rest of the season," Beck says.

But sometimes, the opposite is true.

"On the other side, a design I completed at half past midnight on Dec. 19, 2011, had completely disappeared by the time I got up the next morning," he says. Luckily, Beck did get some reasonable night photos of the ill-fated Dec. 19 design.

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Wintry crop circles

Photo: Simon Beck

Beck hails from southern England, but lives in Savoie, France, during the ski season. He admits that his pieces inevitably draw a comparison to crop circles, the mysterious geometric designs cut into fields that first appeared in southern England in the 1970s. They were later determined to be a hoax. However, Beck is quick to point out that he has never been involved in the creation of crop circles. Further, he does not condone this sort of activity without permission of the landowner, though he shared that he would like to do some farm art with “expressed permission.”

Here we see another Les Arcs design in a photo that has been modified by Beck. He shrunk the horizontal dimensions, darkened the highlights, and increased the contrast and color saturation. It was taken on Christmas Day 2011.

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Shapes in the snow

Photo: Simon Beck

Beck attended the University of Oxford and received a degree in engineering science. He started doing the designs "for a bit of fun" during the 2004 ski season, after purchasing a winter home at the Les Arcs Resort in Savoie, France.

What inspires Beck's designs? They all come from the world of geometry, he says. Citing the Mandelbrot set, the Koch snowflake and the Sierpinski triangle as his three favorite designs, Beck notes that his pieces have grown more complicated as he has gotten better at doing them.

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A tsunami memorial

Photo: Simon Beck

Beck’s tsunami memorial design on the reservoir at Arc2000 in Savoie, France, was completed on March 11, 2012. This piece took around 10 to 15 hours to make, although Beck did not precisely time it. He dedicated this work to the many people affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

"A lot of the inspiration for the snow art comes from the gardens in the temples in Kyoto, where sand is raked in patterns [like these]," he says. "This is the closest thing I have seen elsewhere to the effect I achieve with snow."

The designs are a five-pointed version of the fractal "snowflake curve," named by the mathematician Helge von Koch.

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The ideal conditions

Photo: Simon Beck

In determining the perfect conditions for snow art, Beck generally waits once a week for a heavy snowfall with six days of fine, cold weather in between. This allows him to make two designs per week and get good photos, while going on to reuse the sites the following week. What are Beck’s feelings on the warmer winters?

"It’s annoying," he says. "[Warmer temperatures] mean that the lakes become unsafe to walk on. So I have to use other sites that are not flat and prone to getting tracked by skiers, walkers and animals."

Still, he sees climate change as an issue that will most affect resorts at lower altitudes.

"Here in Les Arcs, there is enough high ground for climate change to shorten the season a few weeks," he says. "But lower resorts will have to switch to other activities."

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Following the cold north

Photo: Simon Beck

What’s next for Beck, who is pictured here? In the warmer months, he plans to continue his art further north where it is still "sensibly cold."

"If conditions in Arctic Norway continue to look good, I shall go up there after the season has ended here for more art," he says.

If you're like to see more of Beck's snowscapes, he released a book of his work in 2014. In the meantime, continue on to see more examples of Beck's frosty work.

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A marathon of snow art

Photo: Simon Beck

For this stunning piece of snow art carved into Utah's Powder Mountain, Beck enlisted a handful of marathon runners to help him complete the shading in the larger areas of the design.

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Bringing art to sports

Photo: Simon Beck

In 2018, Beck created this elaborate downhill skier in honor of the Alpine World Ski Championships held in Bad Gastein, Austria.

He also honored the Minnesota Twins baseball team by creating an elaborate design on the field at their stadium, Target Field.

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Rotating star

Photo: Simon Beck

This elaborate 12-point star was created in April 2013 near the Aiguille Grive ski resort in the French Alps.

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Drakony

Photo: Simon Beck

Simon created this dragon design in Sibera in November 2015 as a commission for a Russian film titled "Drakony."

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Snow gets a mandala treatment

Photo: Simon Beck

Skiiers walk next to a gorgeous mandala-esque snowscape design created at Les Arcs ski resort in December 2013.