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Reach new artistic peaks in Aspen

Aspen's trestle bridge plays a key role in Susan Philipsz's art installation.

Jeremy Swanson

It's not just smooth powder turns and microbrews at après-ski that get Aspen skiers' blood flowing. A joint project between the Aspen Skiing Company and the Aspen Art Museum has skiers' creative juices running fast as well.

The project places artwork all over Aspen's four mountains - Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands - in lift kiosks, gondola stations, bridges used by skiers, and alpine restaurants. Paintings also turn up on Aspen lift tickets.

"One of the great things about contemporary art is that it can appear in unexpected places and thereby catch people off guard," says Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, the museum's director and chief curator.

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Art out of nowhere

The most surprising encounter is Susan Philipsz's White Winter Hymnal audio exhibition at the Trestle Bridge on Snowmass Mountain.

Skiers crossing the landmark are slowed by the sudden yet soothing sounds of a woman singing: "I was following the pack." The experience, meant to mirror the movement of skiers across the bridge, dramatizes the heavily wooded, high-alpine setting.

The audio exhibition has been called the Scottish-born artist's ode to the beauty of winter. It follows Philipsz's recent win of the 2010 Turner Prize, a contemporary art award in conjunction with Tate Britain.

Aspen through images

The Aspen Series is an exhibit by Italian artist Walter Niedermayr that crosses all four mountains. It's made up of 42 photographic compositions of high-alpine Aspen landscapes shot from different vantage points and aerial locations. Skiers can view the work at various spots, including gondola stations, ticket offices, the Treehouse Kids' Adventure Center at Snowmass and the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain.

The Aspen Series depicts skiers dwarfed by the enormous surrounding alpine terrain, and invites us to contemplate man's evolving relationship with his environment. "In the end, every place we meet leaves its traces inside us," Niedermayr writes in the curator's notes. "Perhaps my works are somehow like these trace impressions, making visible the context of Aspen through images."

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Uplifting passes

Instead of the usual logos and disclaimers, lift passes for Aspen mountains are illustrated with Sleeping Standing Up, a 2003 painting by Nordic landscape artist Mamma Andersson. The piece was chosen for its haunting, dream-like alpine scene. The curator's notes describe the work's "disjointed perspectives and mismatched spatial relationships [that]create a sense of the otherworldly. The familiar is made strange, and architecture, pictures and memory are conflated into a single intermediate, hallucinatory image."

This is the sixth season that Aspen Skiing Company and the local museum have collaborated to feature an artist on Aspen lift passes. Past artists have included Yutaka Sone, Karen Kilimnik and Peter Doig.

Come spring break, kids get a chance to design a lift pass too. The next Create-Your-Own Lift Ticket event takes place on the mountain at Buttermilk on March 12.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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