I remember collecting all the ski resort trails that could as a youngster, laying them out on top of each other, and then paging through them and imagining all of the amazing lifts and runs that I might one day ski. The lines and drawings on the maps gave me many happy hours of daydreaming back in the day, and an article about the recent “update” of Heavenly’s map set me to thinking about something that I think many of us take somewhat for granted – the trail map.

The trail map is a tool that first and foremost should guide visitors around the mountain. It should show them where terrain that will appeal to them is and how to get there. It also needs to allow a resort to manage guests around the mountain in a way that  is most beneficial for the resort, i.e. getting guests to the largest on-mountain restaurants or using lifts that are otherwise underutilized. Another element is having something that makes sense to a guests, but also looks good. It’s interesting to note that many of the most popular resorts use one artist, James Niehues, to do the background art for their maps and I was very interested to watch this CNN clip on his website that show how much passion he has for his work:

There’s also a great repository of current and old trail maps online at Skimap.org. There are some great maps that resorts are producing, but there are also some maps that I would classify as “Fails”. By this, I think that they don’t portray their resort in a manner that makes a viewer really undertand what the resort looks like and/or don’t stimulate the viewer to want to ski or ride the slopes that they portray.

To cut to the chase, here are some maps that I think fit my criteria (there are some links to pdfs and I have linked to pages that probably will change over time):

  • Heavenly – I like the new angle
  • Jackson Hole – to me this map really shows the size, both vertical and breadth of the resort
  • Sunday River – for a really wide resort, this map keeps it in perspective while staying easily readable
  • Welch Village – it’s the resort I grew up skiing at and this map does a fine job of representing the lifts and runs for a smaller hill

And here are a few maps that don’t fit my criteria (not really “fails” but the title sounded good – I really can’t hate on any trail map):

  • Nakiska – all those browns and straight computer generated lines just don’t look fun or exciting
  • Alpine Meadows – lots of green, but not much variety of hue, seems almost copy and pasted
  • Stowe – I find that the brown color of the trees on the lower half of the map dominates and just doesn’t make for fun looking map
  • Mt Ashwabay – I’m sure there’s not a lot of budget for a map, but this is to representative and awful dull

What are some examples of great and “fail” trail maps that you’ve seen, or in the past?