Rural Living, Specialty/Niche December 01, 2022
Retired principal creates snow art one step at a time.
The first snows of winter are just around the corner. Anyone who lives in a northern region has two choices, they can either complain about the weather (an ever-popular Canadian pastime) or embrace it. Kim Asmussen loves winter, the avid outdoorsman can hardly wait for the snow to start to fall. It gives the retired school principal from Schreiber, Ontario—a small village on the rugged north shore of Lake Superior—a fresh canvas to create his works of art on, one step at a time.
Asmussen is a snowshoe artist. The active retiree was inspired to pick up the artform in 2020 after seeing the work of British snowshoe artist Simon Beck online. He quickly found that the lines, the circles, and the math required to create vast geometric works of art appealed to him. Since then the works he's made on the lakes, fields, and ballparks surrounding his Northern Ontario home with little more than a pair of snowshoes, a hand compass, and a few other simple tools, have garnered a lot of local and online interest. He's now creating new works every time the region gets another new blanket of fresh snow.
Tracks in the snow. The basic concept is quite simple; Asmussen describes it as making large drawings in the snow (with his snowshoes). Anyone who's ever looked back at the pattern their footprints have made in the snow after a storm can quickly grasp it.
Some pieces can be created in as little as two hours; other more intricate ones can take several days to complete. It can be physically demanding; he's walked over 30 kilometers (19 miles) while making some of them.
Planning is essential for creating snowshoe art. There's a lot more to it than just taking a walk in a snowy field. So Asmussen spends hours creating his designs on his laptop using a drafting program. After he completes one, he'll re-draw it again and again until it becomes firmly lodged in his memory. He doesn't want to be distracted by checking a sketch when he's out walking a line.
"After that I basically just make a large version of it out in the snow with my snowshoes," Asmussen says. "Most often it will be a geometric pattern. I'm a line type person."
When he first started Asmussen used a surveyor's transit to get the angles. But after he had done a few he discovered it was much simpler to start out with a circle. These can easily be subdivided into all kinds of different shapes using intersecting lines and have the added benefit of predetermining the distances he needs to walk in any direction.
"Basically, I set a compass point and walk towards it," he says. "Once I start walking a line I have to be careful. If someone calls to me, I don't stop and see who it is, it's just enough of a distraction to throw me off."
Where he walks is as important as where he doesn't. If he wanders off in a wrong direction he'll have to integrate the mistake into the final piece. A circle can become an oval, or a square become a rectangle, if he loses focus.
"You don't need to be exact, but I try to be," Asmussen adds. "When I make a circle, I'll tether or have someone hold a rope or a tape measure in the middle of the circle and then just walk around them. Other times I'll walk out a predetermined distance holding a tape measure out ahead of me. If I hold it behind me, I'll have already gone too far by the time I hit the stop. I've lots of little tricks like that I'll try to work with."
Working it out. He's constantly developing new tools to create his pieces. For example, he'll use a couple pieces of one-inch plastic conduit to make a compass to mark out 20- to 30-foot diameter circles. If his design includes several parallel lines, he'll hold out a walking stick at arm's length and scratch out where his next line is going to be as he's walking along. Other times he'll lay out a couple ropes to mark his path. He plans to try out a few different things this coming winter based on a string art.
While Asmussen will make his smaller or simpler line designs by himself to make sure all the steps are consistent, he will often enlist volunteers to help out with his larger ones. He'll arrive early to make the initial lines himself and then others will put on their snowshoes and help fill them in. Sometimes more than a dozen will turn up to help.
"People like to come out and help," he says. "But they want to feel useful. They don't want to be there if there is nothing for them to do. It can be quite physical if you are really hoofing it. I just tell people it's not a race, take your time and go at your own pace. I'm not a drill sergeant. This way it becomes more of a social thing. If a few people happen to meet up while walking a pattern they'll stop and chit chat for a while before continuing on their way."
Having more helpers not only speeds up the process, it opens up more options. Two people, for example, can be sent out holding a hockey stick between them to make parallel lines.
Asmussen says you need the right weather conditions too, it's very difficult to create one on a cloudy day. He needs bright sunshine to create the contrast and shadows needed to see where he's going. Once done, snowshoe art, like sandcastles and ice sculptures, is ephemeral. No matter how big or elaborate one of his designs is, it only lasts until the tracks are covered by drifting snow. That's why using drone photography and videography has become such a big part of what he does.
"The patterns can be so vast that you really don't get a sense of them from ground level," Asmussen says. "It's common for new people who come out to help me to not be able to visualize what we are creating here. So, they're quite amazed when I send the drone up and start taking pictures of what we have created. You can hear the wow factor in their voice. It lets me know the experience made it worth their time to come out." ‡
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