Editor’s note: It started innocently enough, our role in snowshoe artist Simon Beck‘s first North American commission, which took place in February. In short, we received a package in the mail from Icebreaker containing a women’s hoody with a striking, geometric pattern on the front. The pattern, it turned out, was inspired by Simon’s snowshoe art, which has become legendary in the Alps of Europe.
“Who the heck IS this guy?” we wondered. We wanted to know more. We messaged Simon on Facebook and to our delight (keep in mind he has almost 300,000 followers), he replied promptly. “Simon Beck here. What can I do for you?” Turns out, the Oxford graduate in engineering had never been to Canada, let alone North America, to do his “snow drawings.” We asked him if he’d like to come to Canada and he said absolutely.
We found a partner, Banff Lake Louise Tourism, who was able and willing to bring Simon over from his home in France. A huge shout out to these folks for stepping forward. Many thanks, also, to photographer Leah Hennel (who shot a super sweet video for us of Simon at work) and to photographer George Webber (his images below) for helping us capture this historic event.
We also loved getting to know the time-lapse photography team, Justin Majecsky and Doug Urquhart, hired by Banff to help illustrate Simon’s visit. We fully expect that their epic production is travelling the world like wildfire right now. It’s beautiful.
Just yesterday, we checked in with Simon’s 83-year-old mom Shirley Beck via telephone (she lives in England) to talk about her son and about how he’s found his way in the world by “speaking snowshoe.” She explained that Simon was an extraordinarily energetic child with great potential. “But that potential was never really fulfilled. Not until now. I’m so proud of him—that he’s got satisfaction and recognition at last.”
Mrs. Beck told us she recently gave her son a birthday card that said, ‘Son, you’re one in a million.’ Then she laughed, adding: “The card could have said, ‘Son, you’re one in many millions.’ His strength, his stamina, his determination to go on and on and on. The thought of all of those footsteps! He’s an original.”
This collaboration has been quite a ride. I think it’s safe to say there’s no one in the world quite like Simon Beck. —Kim Gray
WORDS AND PICTURES BY GEORGE WEBBER
“There is something sensual and mysterious about what Simon does. It was interesting for me as a photographer to observe this combination of intuition and precision. He is highly attuned to natural design but he filters this reverence through an engineer’s technical eye. That’s a powerful thing.” (Photo taken at Deer Lodge in Banff National Park.)
“It struck me, watching Simon design the drawing that would later be stamped in snow, that there was so much calculating and caring being given over to something that, ultimately, is so ephemeral. Within that modest human time scale, he does his best to leave his mark. Somehow, he’s connecting with something in the future. And some part of us cheers for that, and yearns for his success. That’s what we’re all doing, in our own lives in our own ways.
“Simon surveys a site for a potential drawing. He drinks in the landscape, weighing the possibilities of his snowy canvas. The mountains surrounding his eventual drawing at Peyto Lake would make an exquisite frame.
“Here, Simon is translating from his sketch. Is there a place for this design, inspired by a snowflake, in the real world? A design that will eventually exceed the span of several football fields?”
“The day-to-day world is probably a tight fit for Simon. The wider world fits him comfortably. His foot doesn’t fit in a brogue but rather here, in his red snowshoes on the fresh, soft-blown snow of Peyto Lake in Banff National Park.”
“Simon’s movements were almost robotic. He went on and on. Then he would come to the shore of the frozen lake to check in and I was amazed because even after two or more hours at this pace, his breathing would be steady and even—as if he’d been sitting at a table having a cup of tea. Most of us would have been gasping for breath. He bought bananas in large quantities over the weekend when I was with him. They were his rocket fuel, his super food.”
“Simon is a tiny, poignant figure challenging a vast, indifferent landscape. It’s an astonishing contest. Seeing him up against the elements is so unbelievable, it almost makes you laugh. But then your laugh catches in your throat and is replaced with admiration.” (Peyto Lake, Banff National Park)
“The big thrill of this assignment was being part of history. This was the largest commission Simon’s ever undertaken and his first in North America. I even did some of the stomping on it, helping out with the shading. I had a chance to interact with a significant artist, an innovative artist, a creator of a new form. I’ve never met or photographed anyone like Simon Beck.”
Simon Beck, in conversation with Toque & Canoe: “My parents are glad I have finally made something of my life. I don’t have any friends other than the people I know in Les Arcs (a ski resort in France) where I live. They see my drawings and they love them. They probably think I am a bit mad, but then one has to step outside the ordinary if one wants to achieve something out of the ordinary.”
***Postscript: As Simon’s journey around Banff National Park continued on from Peyto Lake, he would complete the following two monumental drawings at Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village. Both of these images went viral around the world on prominent media channels everywhere.
Photo by Chris Moseley courtesy Lake Louise Ski Resort
Photo by Luke Sudermann courtesy Sunshine Village