How Do You Create Snow Art? For Simon Beck, Sturdy Snowshoes And A Mind For Geometry

Courtesy of Town of Silverthorne/Shane Morris
Snowflake mural by international snow artist Simon Beck at North Pond Park in Silverthorne, Colo. on Jan. 2, 2020.

Snow-covered landscapes around Silverthorne will become canvases for internationally recognized snow artist Simon Beck in the next few weeks. 

This is the first time he’s created his snow art in Colorado. Using his snowshoes, Beck will pace out five to 15 fractal snow designs, depending on the weather. 

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating Friday morning.

From inside a small building on the edge of Silverthorne’s new Maryland Creek Park, he watched with dread as the wind picked up outside, blowing snow around. 

“It's gradually making my drawing disappear, but one does the best one can with the conditions God gives you,” he said. “So I'll do my best.”

He’ll return later in the day he decides, shortly before the start of the town’s monthly First Friday event. In addition to Beck’s art, this month features avalanche beacon training, snow science activities for kids, snowman building and sledding.

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Snow artist Simon Beck straps on his boots as he prepares to work on a snow drawing at Maryland Creek Park in Silverthorne on Jan. 3, 2019.

Beck insists that what he does “certainly is an art form,” blended with a heavy dose of geometry.

The U.K. artist created his first snow design in 2004.

“I just made a pattern in the snow for a bit of a laugh one day,” he said. “I had no idea how good it would look.”

Yet Beck ended up being quite pleased with how the snow drawing turned out. And several years after the first drawing, things took off. Beck’s fractal snow etches “starting attracting a lot of attention.”

“I got people offering to give me gear and then people started offering me money and then started to fly me around the world,” Beck said. “I regard myself of being highly privileged to get paid to do something I actually quite like doing.”

He hopes the snow drawings he’s left around the world send a message to those who see it.

“I hope they'll get an appreciation of the beauty of the mountains and the beauty of snow, that it’s something worth preserving,” he said. “And maybe they’ll be a little bit more environmentally friendly in their behavior and their attitude.”

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Beck creates his massive snow drawings by walking out the patterns in snowshoes.

To create them, Beck starts typically with a drawing on A4 paper, the standard size of paper. He said this is a “very rough guideline” that often works out well in practice. It also helps him gauge how long the work will take. 

“I find a circular drawing that fits on an A4 sheet takes up to one day to make if one millimeter is one step,” he said.

He recreates these mathematical drawings in the snow with just a compass and his own feet, often starting in the center and counting his paces from there. 

At Maryland Creek Park, Beck was in the process of creating a work based on the Sierpiński triangle, a fractal triangle that consisting of other triangles of varying sizes.

Beck knows this pattern well. In fact, he was doing Friday’s drawing “entirely off memory.” 

“And if it doesn't blow away completely,” it won’t take him too long, just several hours, he said.

Beck said it’s been “ridiculously warm” in Europe, so he welcomed the chance to come to Colorado when Sydney Schwab, Silverthorne’s arts and culture manager, called him up. 

“Oh my gosh, we were so excited,” Schwab said. “I thought it was a shot in the dark. I thought there was no way we would ever get this international artist to come to Silverthorne, Colorado.” 

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Silverthorne’s recreation and culture director, Joanne Cook, (left) and arts and culture manager, Sydney Schwab, at the warming hut at at Maryland Creek Park on Jan. 3, 2019.

The town is entering its third year of First Friday events, which in the past have drawn up to about 3,000 people, Schwab said. 

“[They’re intended as] a way to build a sense of community here in Silverthorne and bring our neighbors out to interact with one another and really experience these different artistic events,” she said.

Schwab said Beck’s work “fell right in line” with what they were looking for for the inaugural 2020 First Friday.

“We kind of wanted to do something to celebrate this natural element that we had here in our town, the snow,” she said. “And so when doing some research of different artistic experiences, Simon's work was kind of perfect.” 

Beck’s visit is part of the town’s larger effort to establish itself as an arts and culture hub. 

In 2016, Silverthorne launched its first-ever arts and culture strategic plan

“All of the small mountain communities here in the Rockies are blessed with these natural surroundings, outdoor recreation and world-class ski resorts,” said Joanne Cook, Silverthorne’s recreation and culture director. “Silverthorne looked around and said, ‘You know, something that helps people be attached to their community, share with each other, grow closer with their neighbors is the arts and we want to do that better here in the mountains.”

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Internationally recognized snow artist Simon Beck at Maryland Creek Park in Silverthorne on Jan. 3, 2019.

It was a “very grassroots plan,” Cook said, pulling in the resources and people already in the town.

“And how can we celebrate that, make that our starting point, and then going from there,” she said.

Goals included drawing more artists and creatives to live and work in Silverthorne, as well as boosting tourism through the arts. Also on the list was gaining a Creative District designation from the state and cultivating more public art. 

Since 2016, the town has invested nearly $11 million in arts and culture, Cook said. That includes nearly $9 million toward the design and construction of the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, plus funds to support Lake Dillion Theatre Company, First Friday events and public art.

The town has earmarked more than $600,000 for 2020.

The town spent about $10,000 to bring snow artist Simon Beck in, which included his fee, accommodations and the cost to bring his assistant to town as well, Schwab added. They see it as an investment in the long-term goals. 

“I think having Simon here is really a step in the right direction,” Schwab said. “It's getting a little bit more attention on Silverthorne and so people know that we're serious about the arts here in Silverthorne.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to show that the town of Silverthorne has spent more on arts and culture since 2016 than the $7.8 million initially reported.