Making Spaghetti Make Sense

I was asked by Colorado Ski for Light  to make a map of Snow Mountain Ranch, Nordic Center ski trails. Sounds easy enough. Once I had the map in hand, I realized this place is a rabbit warren of twisting trails crisscrossing through miles of terrain. I know making a map is a whole different kettle of fish from tactile art making but I felt up to the challenge.


First, I needed to decide how many different trails people need to distinguish, one from the other.  Clearly folks need to know which trails are easy, intermediate and expert. Since the snowshoe trails and dog trails intersect the ski trails that would also be helpful to distinguish. Of course people need to know where the roads are too.

Once I knew I needed to create six distinct textures for the different paths, I decided to accomplish this by cutting all the maps out of poster-board. These trails would then be placed as an overlay on the low relief map indicating terrain contours.

I decided to use the smooth texture for the road. After a lot of trial and error, I decided to glue an embroidery thread to the middle of the dog trails. I then assigned a fabric strip with a distinct texture to the snowshoe routes because these often ran adjacent to the ski trails. The texture was distinct but subtle so that it would not distract from the ski trails.


For the ski trail, I reserved Braille sized dots because they are the easiest to scan for with big sweeps of the hand. Once you zero in on the trails they are distinguished by the dot spacing. Easy trails have the dots one after the other, just a solid line of dots. The intermediate trails have about a 3/16 inch space between dots, and the expert trails have about a 3/8 inch space between.  By having dots assigned only to the ski trails, it is easy to find them and then by looking closer, it is easy to determine the trail’s ability level.

map detail

The starting place for all activities, the Nordic Center, was indicated by a big star, and the points of interest had a round indicator identified by Braille letters. The key to the trail names and points of interest and trail identifiers are on both sides of the map so that two people can look at the map together and easily access the information.

Map Lg

Christine McGroarty, from Ski for Light, wrote: “The tactile map is wonderful. It was unbelievably interesting and exciting to be able to get a sense of how the grounds are laid out. I have skied at Snow Mountain Ranch for years and had no image of the grounds, but now I do. Over the course of the weekend, I and several of our other blind participants spent considerable time exploring the map. Our deaf-blind skier was particularly excited to be able to get a mental picture of how the grounds are laid out.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-15

We would very much like to recognize the Englewood Lions Club for sponsoring the map.



20 thoughts on “Making Spaghetti Make Sense

  1. Ann, you did it again! This is truly wonderful and I love the way you used the embroidery threads to make the initial map. I find that I learn from doing also, and especially, I have learned from you interesting ideas to incorporate the tactileness of some concrete idea. Your sensational blackboard is really so helpful in translating photographs. Lenora, my blind friend, has made a wonderful tactile painting of a lake. We glued a feather onto a little plastic duck, and she was ecstatic! We used sandpaper for the sand and small shells. She remembers when she was little, her mother used to sing..”The one little duck with the feather on his back…He ruled the others with a quack quack quack! 😀
    Your ski map is really fabulous, and I think every park should have a tactile map with walking trails. You should patent the idea.

    • What a great song, I never hear that one! Thanks for sharing your adventures with Lenora with me. I always love hearing what you two are doing.

  2. The engineering aspects of the creation process of this map are fascinating and impressive. It was a wildly complex situation on paper to begin with and you have managed to produce a clear rendering of the information for all to use. Well done. REALLY well done. I get your point about visiting and posting to the blog rather than email too. So, here I is.

  3. Thanks for writing. It is not quite up for use by sightlings. I need to add a few print letters and numbers so that print readers can figure out the key! We are testing some different letters now. We have to find durable letters that you can’t feel.

  4. Great job Ann!! I see the map shows lots of information, even contour lines! Not just the contour line but the “plateaued” contour, smart.
    Wonder how hard it would be to add visual information on the map for the use of partially sighted and sighted people. This mostly depends on the production technique… which did you use?

    • Thanks, Bernat, you master ‘o maps. I would love to be able to print images on the plastic before thermoforming but I don’t have access to that equipment like you have at Touch Graphics, US and Europe. I am using an American Thermoform 10″ x 11″ format. We are testing some markers to add non-touch-detectable visual information. Any suggestions about what is durable and will not smudge?

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