Aspen Times Weekly: One Step at a Time |

Aspen Times Weekly: One Step at a Time

by Andrew Travers
The snow-drawing project at Ashcroft, seen from above on Monday, March 20.
Sonja Hinrichsen/Special to the Aspen Times |

If You Go …

What: High Five launch event

Where: The Launchpad, Carbondale

When: Friday, April 7, 5 to 8 p.m.

How much: Free

More info: The event will include images of Sonja Hinrichsen’s artwork, an “Energy Confessional” art installation, an electric vehicle rally, solar-powered bus, refreshments and door prizes;

For artist Sonja Hinrichsen, this landscape-scale snow drawing project is part of an impressive and growing body of ingenious environmental art that uses snow as its canvas and people as its paintbrushes. For us volunteers, it was a memorable way to spend an unseasonably warm mid-March morning in the mountains. For the City of Aspen and the Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE) it was the beginning of what they hope will be a valleywide movement of action to conserve energy and fight climate change — an initiative they’ve dubbed “The High Five.”


The High Five initiative takes its name from the five towns in the Roaring Fork Valley and the idea of taking action in bulk (i.e., grabbing five friends to take five actions to save energy). It’s calling on Roaring Fork Valley locals to sign a pledge online to take five actions. Beginning April 10, High Fivers can choose their actions, selecting from a list of 25 options (most of them are simple, like unplugging appliances when they’re not in use, composting food scraps, taking five-minute showers; some are more involved, like getting a home energy assessment, installing a programmable thermostat, planting a local species in your yard or installing rain barrel). Every five actions enters you into a prize drawing and, of course, saves some carbon emissions.

The snow-drawing event at Ashcroft offered an on-the-ground metaphorical equivalent to the seemingly small, seemingly insignificant energy-saving steps that the High Five is promoting. After all, those thousands of snowshoe stomps in the snow added up to something monumental. And if thousands of people’s High Five actions become lifelong habits, that impact too would add up.

“We wanted to bring creativity into the conversation,” explained Lara Whitley, the local artist and PR flak now working as the community engagement and marketing manager for CORE, who brought Hinrichsen’s snow-drawing project to Aspen.

Whitley believes the High Five can use local pride and positivity (and art) as a catalyst for change. More than a decade after “An Inconvenient Truth,” people may have been numbed to dire warnings of rising sea levels, superstorms, mass extinctions and the end of snow.

“There’s so much noise out there,” Whitley told a crowd that gathered to hear about the snow-drawing project at the Pitkin County Library, “and people are tired of doom and gloom messages and hard science that maybe doesn’t enter the psyche in the same way as creativity could.”

A few days later, after walking spirals around Ashcroft, people were already making the connection between small actions, potentially large impacts on climate change and walking spirals alone in the snow.

“You take one step at a time,” Shere Coleman, a local artist and puppeteer among the volunteer spiralers, told me at midday. “It’s one step, and then you take another step. That’s the bigger meditation for me. It’s a huge thing to consider, shifting the way people do things, but if you’re willing to just do it like this,” she took a few steps in the snow, “then we’ll get there.”


“Don’t worry, you are not going to mess up my piece,” Hinrichsen comforted her battalion of volunteers outside of the King Cabin, before the snow-stomping began.

As precise and detailed as her snow-drawings look from high above, it’s an imprecise art on the ground. It’s an act of communal spontaneity. Hinrichsen doesn’t design the piece beforehand or give detailed instructions on what to do. She doesn’t yell instructions from a megaphone.

That morning at Ashcroft, she simply held up a sheet of loose leaf paper with spirals sketched on it, and told us how to make one: walk to a central point, then walk in circles around that point. When it’s as big as you want it, or you run out of room, walk somewhere else and start another.

She assuaged our concerns about making perfectly round spirals by motioning to a grove of crooked aspen trees and saying, “Look at nature, look at trees: none of this is exactly vertical, they all look different, everything has little variations to it, which is what makes things interesting,”

The only limitation she placed on us was not to make other designs — she didn’t want us getting cute and making hearts or spelling our names.

“The most important thing is to have fun with this, and listen to your own footsteps in the snow,” she told the group. “It’s meditative to walk around and around and around and have the landscape kind of rotate around you. You are in that same landscape for a long time — not just skiing or snowshoeing through as you normally would.”

And off we went, spreading out across the area as drones hovered above us.

“You are all choreographers,” she said. “You decide: ‘Oh! There is this big space that is all white and there is nobody there — let me go there!’”

Hinrichsen, German-born and California-based, has made her snow drawings all over Europe and the U.S. in recent years. But the idea was born here during an artist residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in the winter of 2009.

She had previously been making video and installation pieces. A few casual snowshoe treks around Snowmass serendipitously led her to what’s become her signature work and radically changed the trajectory of her career.

Looking at the imprints her snowshoes made in the snow on a walk, she began playing around with making designs, eventually making large patterns of circles on the golf course at the Snowmass Club.

“That’s when I thought, ‘Maybe I am going to do more of that,’” she recalled. “Maybe it’s not just playing around in the snow. … That was before I thought this could be a participatory project.”

She soon began taking to the snow with groups of people — starting with 12 volunteers on Rabbit Ears Pass — to help make her snow drawings into massive, otherworldly things. Her drawings have since covered snowy expanses in upstate New York, France, Finland and Alaska — along with several around Colorado. Over the years, the pieces grew larger and more complex with the help of her army of snow-stompers. Before coming to Aspen in March, her most recent work was made last year on top of the frozen Yampa River, mimicking the flow of water and made with 70 volunteers over three days.

“Colorado people are just really into these things,” she said.