The mountains are becoming open-air museums

Luxe ski resorts are enhancing the experience with vibrant shows in the snow. 

The mountains are becoming open-air museums

While you’re swooshing down the slopes, art may not be foremost on your mind. However, ski resorts across the world have been introducing aesthetic experiences into their winter offerings, via oversized sculptures, illustrated lift tickets and painted gondolas—transforming mountains into open-air museums.

In Courchevel, one of the poshest mountain playgrounds (and part of Les Trois Vallées in France, the largest ski region in the world), skiers encounter an ever-changing assortment of pieces. The resort’s L’Art au Sommet program began in the winter of 2009 with an exhibition of 14 sculptures by Salvador Dalí, commemorating the 20th anniversary of his death. Each year since then, artists have displayed work on the summits of Courchevel, including (several times) Richard Orlinski and Julien Marinetti. This season, nine of their sculptures will dot various elevations, among them Kong, Horse and Tiger from Orlinski and multiple pandas from Marinetti. Courchevel also invited graffiti artists such as JonOne to paint their cable cars and gondolas, and added a pop-up exhibition by artist-fabricator Rébecca Fabulatrice, who wraps old chairlifts, gondolas and skis in bright bra straps.

In Colorado, the Aspen Skiing Company and Aspen Art Museum partnered on a program called Art in Unexpected Places, which each year invites artists to embellish the resort’s ski-lift tickets. The current season features multimedia artist Paula Crown’s depictions of crushed red Solo cups, a commentary on the American ideal of fun, consumerism, FOMO (fear of missing out) and environmental awareness. Past contributors include Takashi Murakami, Laura Owens, Carla Klein, Mamma Andersson, Mark Grotjahn, David Shrigley, Mark Bradford and Anne Collier. The program extends into the physical at Elk Camp on Snowmass Mountain, which hosts temporary art installations. This winter, painter Sarah Cain has produced a large-scale, site-responsive work utilizing found objects and recycled materials.

While contemporary art tends to be the order of the day, one of the oldest pieces at a ski resort can be found in Chamonix, France, where a stained-glass scene by Louis Balmet at the church Saint-Michel commemorates the first Winter Olympic Games, held there in 1924. An hour away, the resort Flaine is making a comeback. The area was pioneered in 1959 by geophysicist Éric Boissonnas, who hired Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer (who also designed the UNESCO headquarters in Paris) to create a cultural snowscape and mountain museum. When it debuted in 1969, Flaine featured outdoor sculptures by Pablo Picasso (La Tête de Femme), Jean Dubuffet (Le Boqueteau) and Victor Vasarely (Les Trois Hexagones), as well as Breuer’s precast concrete buildings (which are now listed in the French Historical Monuments Survey). After years of neglect, Flaine is again being recognized for its Brutalist architecture: A new hotel, Terminal Neige Totem, recently opened in one of Breuer’s original structures.

And at Sleeping Lady, a mountain resort in Leavenworth, Washington, glass artist Dale Chihuly—famous for his sculptures in destinations such as the Citadel Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem, the waterways of Venice, and London's Kew Gardens—created his first permanent outdoor installation. The Icicle Creek Chandelier, standing nearly nine feet tall and composed of 1,060 spikes, is a favorite of skiers and aesthetes alike.