75 Chapters of Aspen: Skico, and Pop-Up Magazine staging multimedia anniversary event at Wheeler
What: ‘Aspen 75,’ presented by Aspen Skiing Co. and Pop-Up Magazine
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Friday, March 11 & Saturday, March 12; 5:30 & 8 p.m.
How much: $46/GA; $19.46/Skico employees
Tickets: Wheeler box office; aspenshowtix.com
If you arrived in Aspen after 2002, you may not have heard of the 24 Hours of Aspen race at all. If you have, it’s likely some apocryphal tale of some strange middle-of-the-night phenomenon during the suffer-fest event that sent thrill-seeking pairs of skiers lapping Aspen Mountain for a full day and night annually from 1988 to 2002.
For the creative team at the Aspen Skiing Co. and Pop-Up Magazine, vividly recreating the story of the 24 Hours in all its extreme and oddball glory was among the countless deep dives and storytelling feats they undertook to make “Aspen 75,” a mixed-media production that aims to capture the essence of the ski town as Skico celebrates its 75th anniversary. The show has four performances at the Wheeler Opera House on Friday and Saturday.
“We tried to dig and find some pretty spectacular tales,” said Skico director of content Kate Kate Wertheimer.
Teaming with Pop-Up, whose acclaimed and unique “live magazine” format was also the centerpiece of the Aspen Ideas Festival “Afternoon of Conversation” in 2019, they are aiming to make something unforgettable out of the stories they’ve collected. Pop-Up brings together reporters, writers, filmmakers, comedians and musicians to tell live stories collaboratively.
For the 24 Hours segment, for example, the Skico and Pop-Up team interviewed people who had been part of the race to crown the “world’s toughest skier,” dug up all the video and audio recordings they could find. As they put the segment together, they found holes where they didn’t have video, so they added original animation. For the show, they also have scripted live narration and a musical score, with live performers interacting with those on the big screen.
“It really is a total multimedia production to bring the energy and the craziness of what that race was to the stage so that everyone in the audience can really feel it through what they’re hearing through what they’re seeing,” Skico creative director Mark Carolan said.
Skico early this winter ran a popular and admirably curated 75-part social media countdown, leading up to the actual anniversary on Jan. 11, which included a ski parade and toast at the original Lift One (the Pop-Up shows had been scheduled for then as well, but the local coronavirus surge pushed it to March). The 75-post series functioned as a sort of preview of what to expect from “Aspen 75,” physical posters of the countdown have also been up on Skico properties all winter.
The event aims to thread the needle between the hyper-local and the global Aspen audience.
“We’re trying to tell stories that locals will still feel excited about, even though they may have heard about it, but also still educate anybody who’s just on holiday or has never been to Aspen before and just want to try out the show,” Carolan said.
So don’t expect a rote Aspen history. They’re aiming to go deeper and wider than the narrative Aspen normally tells itself and the world about its postwar history — the story most locals can recite to a visitor in the length of a chairlift ride — of the Paepckes, the “Aspen Idea,” the rebirth of the mining town as a utopia and ski resort, the ski bum incursion, the glam years of the ’80s and the more recent “billionaires forcing out the millionaires” era.
Both Carolan and Wertheimer are recent transplants to Aspen — Carolan started in March 2021 — allowing them to see the story of Aspen with fresh eyes and a sense of wonder that some longer-tenured and more jaded locals may have lost.
Their local team dug for original narratives and lesser-known stories of the people, places and events that have made Aspen what it is, or what it can be when it’s at its best.
They dug deep for the 75 chapter countdown and for “Aspen 75” on things like the miraculous avalanche control bombing that allows ski patrollers to keep Highland Bowl safe, the birth of Gay Ski Week here in 1977, Hunter Thompson’s “Freak Power” campaign, the “Buttermilk Biscuits,” World Cup and downhill racing, the X Games and the art/ski collaborations that led to happenings like the artist Yutaka Sone rolling massive dice down the Buttermilk halfpipe.
They also hit on adaptive skiing at Challenge Aspen, on our local cinematic classics “Dumb and Dumber” and “Aspen Extreme,” on Bauhaus master Herbert Bayer and ski racer Ingemar Stenmark and mountaineer Andre Roch, sustainability and equity efforts, on Belly Up and Aspen Film and incredible archival finds like the short-lived Aspen Soda and its ludicrous ad campaign.
“We really wanted to honor our tradition of storytelling and our rich history,” Wertheimer said, “and wanted to tell the town’s most incredible stories in a new way.”
In keeping with the Pop-Up ethos, the show itself will be a surprise and will only be seen by the four audiences who come to the Wheeler, as they don’t record or broadcast their productions and audience members are asked to put their phones away. As Pop-Up producer Haley Howle put it before the Ideas Fest performance, “You are in it with the people around you and the sequence of stories is only happening for you and this group of people at this moment. There is something magical and unexplainable that happens.”
For this moment of pandemic Zoom burnout and virtual event fatigue, a Pop-Up spectacle is a welcome change.
“Pop-Up just seemed like the perfect partnership for a community with such a rich history of storytelling, because that’s exactly what they do,” Wertheimer said.
And for Skico, which this winter launched a new logo and a fashion line and events division called ASPENX and appears to be redefining how it tells its own story with Carolan and Wertheimer at the helm of the brand, there may be more events like “Aspen 75” coming in the future.
“Hopefully this is the first big step to telling a wider range of stories and in new and creative ways,” Wertheimer said.
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