After a long day of skiing, one night Simon Beck decided to try something different on the snow. He was working as a mapmaker and orienteer at the time, so he happened to have a compass in his pocket. He walked out onto a snow-covered lake, plotted out some points, and started to track out a giant star-shaped pattern with his snowshoes.
A few years later, when an injury meant he couldn’t hike or run as easily, he started creating more snow art as a way to exercise. He’s been at it every winter for the last four years, making increasingly complicated designs.
“It just seemed like a natural thing to do,” Beck says. “Right outside the building where I live in the winter, there’s a frozen lake about two-thirds the area of a soccer field. So you’ve got this great big area of completely untracked snow, which people don’t usually go on because of warnings about walking on the ice. I just thought, let’s draw something on it.”
Though Beck created the first designs in his head, as they got more complex, he started planning them out in detail on paper. He studies crop circles and other geometric patterns as inspiration. Out on the lake, he might count his steps or use string to measure angles, or, if a previous design is still peeking through the snow, he’ll use that as a template. The whole process usually takes about 10 hours.
It’s a lot of work for something that can be destroyed overnight by a heavy snowfall or when wind blows the fresh powder. It’s cold, and walking on snowshoes for 10 hours (or more) isn’t exactly easy. It’s also probably a little risky to walk on ice on the middle of a lake–especially alone at night–though Beck is convinced that it’s safe for a single person, and he’s careful to test the ice towards the end of the season as it begins to melt away.
Beck likes to work on Lac Marlou, near his apartment in the French Alps, in part because a nearby mountain gives him a good place to take photos when he’s done. But the mountain also casts shadows on the snow, making it hard to get exactly the shot he wants. His next plan: Buy a drone, so he can fly a camera above a different lake.
The local ski resort likes the snow art. “At first they thought I was a bit mad, but now they see it as good promotion,” Beck says. He plans to keep going as long as he can.