With the latest art installation atop Aspen Mountain, Aspen Skiing Co. wants climate change to be on your face

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Aspen Skiing Company fondue gondola installation at the top of Aspen Mountain on December 21, 2021 (Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times)

TREMBLE | You can’t miss it or its message.

When you board the Silver Queen Gondola about 11,212 feet above sea level to the top of Aspen Mountain, you see a gondola next to the Sundeck, on a perch above the valley of Castle Creek which is usually the most popular spot for tourist photos at the top of the mountain, melting in a pool of red blood.

The art installation “The Melted Gondola”, designed by the creative team at Aspen Skiing Co. and produced by Carbondale-based artist Chris Erickson, aims to shake up skiers and visitors alike and inspire action against the climate change, reminding them of the existential threat that global warming poses to snow, winter sports and humanity.

“I hope this article could help steer the conversation more towards action, personal responsibility and corporate responsibility,” Erickson said recently.

According to Skico’s measurements, the average temperature here has risen 3 degrees Fahrenheit since Aspen’s first ski season in 1946-47. Some 30 natural winter days have been lost since 1980, according to the company. The Burnt Gondola is meant to visualize what’s to come.

Skico Creative Director Mark Carolan approached Erickson earlier this year to work on a winter installation, something in the vein of “Hot with the Chance of a Late Storm” by James Dive and The Glue Society, an installation by 2006 in Australia which depicts a melted ice cream truck on a sidewalk in Sydney.

Erickson was a natural fit for the job. He rose to prominence as a fine artist by making sculptural paintings including climate-themed series and an open-air installation in activist artist Ajax Ax’s provocative space station Aspen at the back of the mountain last summer. But he also runs a business called Prop that creates custom sculptures and props, mostly for events and private parties.

“It was a perfect and ideal crossroads,” said Erickson. “It is this convergence of these two disciplines. And the third is artist activism, that platform that art can provide to make a statement on important societal and cultural issues and challenges.

From a practical standpoint, his work of making miraculous custom accessories meant that he was the local expert in finding the right materials and welding techniques to make a melting gondola look like a real melting gondola and making it survive. in the winter elements this ski season.

The installation of artwork was far from the standard treatment of a museum or white glove gallery. Erickson and a team from Skico drove the pre-made parts of “The Melted Gondola” to the top of the mountain in the back of a flatbed truck, then Erickson built a canopy with a military parachute and spent four days welding and paint inside of it before unveiling.

The work is the latest in a year for systemic climate change from Skico, which has included lobbying in Washington, international advertising campaigns sounding the climate alarm and launching a capture project. of methane in an old coal mine, with art. Previous art initiatives have included massive solo sectional sculpture installations by Paula Crown, the artist and art advisor to Skico whose family owns the business, and a partnership with local environmental groups as part of the project. multi-year public art “Imagine Climate”.

The company is also a long-time partner of the Protect Our Winters (POW) nonprofit on snow sports community climate action.

“We encourage dialogue, support and, most importantly, through our close connection with POW, strong action,” Carolan said in the company’s “Melted Gondola” announcement.

Dialogue is not easy, of course, as COP26 earlier this year in Glasgow and years of climate summits and inaction by world leaders showed.

But Erickson has decided to get involved in recent weeks after the unveiling of “The Melted Gondola”, responding directly to climate deniers on social media and talking about solutions.

He found himself defending Skico to critics, a position Erickson didn’t expect to find himself in until working on the play. He had been skeptical of the company, wondering if their efforts were just greenwashing public relations.

“Working with them was a bit of an ethical dilemma for me,” he explained. “And the deeper I dug into it, the more I really felt that they were seeking to make a genuine and heartfelt statement about the crisis. They are taking these steps and initiatives to actually do something about it. “

Although he encountered opposition from some and skepticism from others – as well as mandatory trolling – Erickson vowed to be part of the conversation his work began.

“I guess the most encouraging part is that people are talking about it,” he said. “I think the action comes through the conversations.”

The installation of ‘The Melted Gondola’ coincided with the release of Skico’s annual sustainability report, which this year bills itself as a climate action handbook with examples of how POW and Skico are trying to transform the world. outdoor industry into a political force on climate. as well as issues of social justice and equity.

“The ski and outdoor industry is enthusiastic, but has not always exerted large amounts of energy like other industries like oil and gas or the big pharmaceutical companies often do,” Auden said. Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Skico at the unveiling of “The Melted Gondola”. . “We want to help bring that power to the fight against climate change. “

The report also directly addresses greenwashing concerns and the often-leveled criticism of Skico and Aspen’s climate activism, in a section titled “Hypocrites Unite! “

“The idea that a company like ours that has a large carbon footprint and operates luxury hotels (and where people sometimes spray themselves on, uh, champagne) cannot speak out on the climate is precisely what the fossil fuel industry wants the public to believe, ”one reads, pleading that people are not silenced for participating in a fossil fuel economy. Rather, the answer is that we are all compelled to defend, lobby, protest and implement fixes to the larger system that is decarbonizing the entire enchilada. It’s terrifying to the people who created the fossil-based system, which is a good sign. “

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