ASPEN — You can’t miss it or its message.
Aspen Mountain is at 11,212 feet above sea level, the Silver Queen Gondola takes you to the top. You will see a gondola car alongside the Sundeck. This perch is often the most popular spot for tourists mountain top photos. It melts into a pool reddish-purple water as it passes by.
“The Melted Gondola” art installation, conceived by the Aspen Skiing Co. creative team and made by Carbondale-based Chris Erickson, artistThis video aims at jarring skiers and visitors, as well as inspiring action on climate changes, reminding them of how dangerous global warming is to snow, winter sports, and humanity.
“I would hope that this piece could help move the conversation more towards action and personal responsibility and corporate responsibility,” Erickson said this week.
By Skico’s measurements, the average temperature here has gone up 3 degrees Fahrenheit since Aspen’s inaugural 1946-47 ski season. According to the company, 30 days of naturally occurring winter were lost since 1980. The scorched-gondola car is meant for visualization of what lies ahead.
Skico creative director Mark Carolan approached Erickson earlier this year to work on a winter installation, something in the vein of James Dive and The Glue Society’s “Hot with the Chance of a Late Storm,” a 2006 installation in Australia that depicted a melted ice cream truck on a Sydney sidewalk.
Erickson was the natural choice for this job. Erickson has become a prominent figure in the field of a Fine artists create sculptural paintings, including climate-themed series and an outdoor installation at activist artist Ajax Axe’s provocative Aspen Space StationLast summer, he was on the backside the mountain. Prop is his business, and he creates custom sculptures and props mostly for private parties.
“It was a perfect, ideal crossroads,” Erickson said. “It’s this convergence of these two disciplines. And the third is the artist activism, this platform that art can provide to make a statement about important societal and cultural issues and challenges.”
Practically, his work in creating miraculous custom props meant that he was the local expert in finding the right materials to make a melting snowmobile look like a real melting snowmobile and to ensure it survives the winter elements.
The artwork installation was far more than the typical white-glove museum or gallery treatment. Erickson and a Skico team drove the pre-fabricated pieces of “The Melted Gondola” to the top of the mountain on the back of a flatbed truck, then Erickson built a canopy over it with a military parachute and spent four days welding and painting inside of it before the unveiling.
This is the most recent in a series of years-long works Push for climate systemic changeSkico has been involved in lobbying in Washington, D.C., and international ad campaigns calling for climate change. They also launched a methane capture project in an old coal mine. Solo cups have been a part of previous art initiatives. Paula Crown sculpture installationsSkico’s art advisor and artist, whose family also owns the company. He is also a partner with local environmental groups for the multiyear project. “Imagine Climate”Public art project.
The company has also been a long-standing partner of the nonprofit Protect Our Winters on climate action from snow sports communities.
“We are encouraging dialogue, support, and most importantly — through our close connection with POW — strong action,” Carolan said in the company’s “Melted Gondola” announcement.
The dialogue isn’t easy, of course, as COP26 earlier this year in Glasgow, the years of climate summits and inaction by world leaders have shown.
But Erickson has decided to engage in recent weeks after “The Melted Gondola” was unveiled, responding to climate deniers on social media directly and talking about solutions.
Erickson had never imagined he would find himself in this position before completing the piece. He was skeptical of the company and wondered if their efforts were just green-washing public relations.
“Working with them was a bit of an ethical dilemma for me,” he explained. “And the more I dug into it, the more I really felt they were looking to make a genuine, heartfelt statement about the crisis. They are taking these steps and initiatives to actually do something about it.”
Even if he’s been met with opposition from some and skepticism from others — along with the obligatory trolling — Erickson is committed to being a part of the conversation his work has started.
“I guess the most encouraging part is people talking about it,” he said. “I think action comes through the conversations.”
The installation of “The Melted Gondola” coincided with the release of the Skico’s Annual sustainability reportThis year’s edition of, is a guide for climate action. It includes examples of how POW, Skico and others are trying to make the outdoor industry a political force on climate change and social justice.
“The ski and outdoor industry are enthusiastic but have not historically wielded large amounts of power the way other industries like oil and gas or big pharma often do,” Skico vice president of sustainability Auden Schendler said when “The Melted Gondola” was unveiled. “We want to help bring that power to the fight against climate change.”
The report also directly addresses the green-washing concerns and the often-lobbed criticisms of Skico and Aspen’s climate activism, in a section titled “Hypocrites Unite!”
“The notion that a business like ours that has a large carbon footprint and operates luxury hotels (and where people sometimes, uh, spray champagne on each other) can’t speak out on climate is precisely what the fossil fuel industry wants the public to believe,” it reads, advocating for people not to be silenced because they participate in a fossil fuel economy. “The answer instead is that all of us are obligated to advocate, to lobby, to protest, and to actually implement fixes to the larger system that de-carbonize the whole enchilada. This is terrifying to the folks who created the fossil-based system, which is a good sign.”