British artist meets Banff National Park

Simon Beck snowshoes his way into the hearts of Canadians

Snowshoe artist Simon Beck / Banff National Park / Photos by George Webber

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

 

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“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.)

 

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“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.

 

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“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.

 

BeckTC _06“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?”

 

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“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.”

 

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“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.”

 

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“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)

 

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“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.”

 

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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.

 

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Photo by Chris Moseley courtesy Lake Louise Ski Resort.

 

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Photo by Luke Sudermann courtesy Sunshine Village.

***Interested in purchasing Simon’s book – featuring images of his unique art? Check it out here.

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  1. Pat Nichols commented:

    Thank you to the amazing artist, Simon Beck. Thank you to the community of people who were responsible for contributing to the creation and public display of this uniquely Canadian outdoor art project. Simon’s work is soulful and beautiful. Art and beauty help to balance out the darker side of our world, which we are exposed to far too often. Yet another special thank you to George Webber who I met briefly in Calgary many moons ago, around the time that he produced the Little Bow Project, which were amazing B&W photos of a Hutterite group.

    Reply

  2. Deborah Ward commented:

    Just delighted to read that Simon was blessed with the opportunity
    to go to BANFF Alberta. His Art certainly will be met with delight and
    lots of heartfelt gratitude.

    BANFF Alberta like no other!

    Reply

  3. Shirley Beck commented:

    What a amazing job you have done, T & C, in presenting Simon and his art to a yet wider audience – not an easy task in terms of size, time, location, personality, but you seem to have got to the heart of it all. Many thanks; I think you are wonderful, and so is Simon, but then I could be just a wee bit biased, being his Mom.

    Reply

    • George Webber commented:

      I learned a few things observing and photographing Simon Beck for T&C. Most important, perhaps, was a reminder that going up against the odds is never easy. But in that, there is an inspiration and challenge for the rest of us.

      Reply

  4. Simon Beck commented:

    The Banff NP is a great unspoilt area and there is something peaceful about being able to look at the mountains rising beyond unaltered forests, exactly as God intended, meaning before humans started modifying the landscape. Beautiful as the European Alps are, there is always human alteration here and there.

    Reply

    • Dan McDonnell commented:

      I certainly agree with you Simon. Why do people always have to spoil what mother nature gives only God knows. I love the great mountains and mother earth and my heart cries when I see her being destroyed.

      Reply

  5. Dan McDonnell commented:

    Simon there is a vast amount of people who have great talents and I’m in awe how you express yourself. I am a watercolorist and enjoy painting nature scenes and you opened my eyes to another great way to show how artist like you can make something out of nothing into a master piece. I live near Lake Erie in Ohio and the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland Ohio actually started on FIRE in 1967 0r near that time. Anyway that just shows you how people can destroy mother earth.
    The only way to ignore these things is either ignore them or try to do something to make people realize what there doing to Gods world.
    Dan McDonnell
    Sad to say near Cleveland Ohio

    Reply

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