This year’s snow drawing project a tribute to Lake Catamount’s creation |

This year’s snow drawing project a tribute to Lake Catamount’s creation

Ben Ingersoll

Environmentalist and snow drawer Sonja Hinrichsen returned to Lake Catamount for the second straight year over the weekend to conduct a community wide project.

— Snow drawing — it starts with a vision and a dash of inspiration, and then it becomes a collaborative and creative piece of art.

Ask artist Sonja Hinrichsen, she's been doing it for years in Routt County, and as her work keeps returning to the Steamboat area, it also is making its impact in far wider reaches.

Since 2011, Hinrichsen has been hosting snow drawings in Routt County, starting with Hayden in 2011, then moving on to a project at Rabbit Ears Pass in 2012. Last winter, she and more than 60 volunteers traversed a deep blanket of snow on frozen-over Lake Catamount.

It was a piece of art to behold with a series of spiraling circles and connecting lines.

Hinrichsen returned to Lake Catamount over the weekend, but this year's project wasn't like her previous pieces seen locally.

On Saturday, Hinrichsen and community volunteers broke into four groups along the western edge of the lake, each cluster representing the original tributaries along the Yampa River that created the body of water.

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"The idea is to represent these different tributaries within that whole piece," Hinrichsen said Friday. "I think this is more to sort of draw it all together."

But it wasn't meant to be a uniform, linear march, she said. In tying the project together with her environmental motive, Hinrichsen expected the community volunteers to think how tributaries work and how water moves.

Rivers, creeks and streams rarely flow in a direct manner, like a canal might. Water moves in whirlpools and slices around rocks. It spills into gullies and makes ripples, she said.

"There is no specific design except for the idea that we (wanted to) represent the old river — an abstraction of it," Hinrichsen said.

The volunteers each held colored wind bags — elongated bags that can catch flowing air — so to make aerial photographs a possibility. The four tributaries were marked red, yellow, green and blue.

Then the volunteers, wearing snowshoes, walked northbound along where the original Yampa River flowed before Catamount existed. From above, the mixture of red, yellow, green and blue was to represent a temporary live image of what used to be.

As a naturalist, one of Hinrichsen's goals is to create natural art that won't leave a permanent footprint, except in photographs.

"It's not lasting but it kind of is lasting, because I photograph it, and it gets printed and shown in galleries and the news," Hinrichsen said, noting past projects have made rounds in education books in France and Germany.

This year's project was sponsored by the Legacy Education Fund, a place-based educational program in Routt County. Projects like snow drawings are examples of place-based education, which pulls folks from the classroom into the outdoors for a different style of learning.

"I hope to get people more attached and attuned with the natural world this way," Hinrichsen said.

She's proud that lasting images can make her work and projects internationally recognized, but working with volunteers in a community setting holds a special meaning.

"I really loved the past two events I did in 2013 here and 2012 at Rabbit Ears Pass, just because they were community events and people were getting involved," Hinrichsen said. "I realized that people actually like this and are really proud of creating these arts projects."

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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