Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

News

The Demise of the Paper Trail Map

Long a mainstay of the lift line maze, paper trail maps have fallen victim to a combination of cost-cutting and environmental sustainability.

Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.

The paper ski-trail map may soon be a relic of the past.

According to a report in The New York Times, resorts across North America are doing away with physical pocket maps and asking skiers to view trail information online. Free paper maps used to be a mainstay in lift lines and at base-area lodges around the country—but that’s no longer the case.

At Vail Resorts’ 37 ski areas, guests must now ask a guest services representative for a map. California’s Big Bear Mountain Resort stopped printing maps two seasons ago. Powdr, a company that operates 10 areas, including Utah’s Snowbird, now displays QR codes on the old map distributors; the code takes users to a digital map. Aspen, Colorado, still prints approximately 30,000 paper maps each year for its four resorts, but that’s down from the former print run of 300,000.

James Niehues
Artist James Niehues painted over 430 trail maps for resorts across five continents over his 30-year career. He says his goal was to keep his maps as realistic and easy to read as possible. Photo by Aron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

There are multiple reasons why resorts are pivoting away from maps, from cutting costs to limiting environmental impact. Digital maps also steer skiers to resort-specific apps that offer additional interactive features and information on snow conditions.

Not all skiers are happy about the new policy. After Vt.’s Killington Resort reduced the number of its printed maps by 30 percent, it received negative feedback from guests. “We would ultimately like to eliminate the winter printed maps, too, but the pushback has been pretty strong—a lot of people prefer the paper map,” spokeswoman Kristel Killary told the Times.

Of course no discussion of paper ski-trail maps would be complete without seeking input from artist James Niehues, who has drawn more than 200 such maps throughout his career. Niehues told the Times that his goal was always to show skiers the potential each mountain could offer. “I really kept the skiers in mind and tried to make it as realistic as I could,” he said.