Cigarette advertising lights up conversation about Aspen’s ski pass art

Aspen’s 2018-19 lift tickets will feature six designs derived from artworks by artist Hank Willis Thomas.
Courtesy image

Local reaction was mixed on opening day to the Aspen Skiing Co.’s unusual lift ticket design, which features text from old cigarette advertisements.

As part of Skico’s “Art in Unexpected Places,” the ticket design is the work of artist Hank Willis Thomas and is a social message of sorts.

Advertising tobacco taglines from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s appear on the lift tickets in white text set against a black or blue background. Two examples are Newport’s “Alive with Pleasure!” and Salem cigarettes’ “You’ve got what it takes.”

Skico helps skiers and snowboarders make the connection with a brief explanation on the Ajax Express chairlift: “By isolating the text from the original advertisements and distilling the language of marketing, Thomas reveals the hyper-glamorized persons which target the consumer and highlight the way language can be become a market of a lifestyle.”

The words also can be interpreted as a social or environmental message:

“Thomas recontextualizes the same text that was once used to try to sell the idea of polluting our air and our lungs, which now become words of encouragement as skiers conquer the mountain at high altitude,” the chairlift note reads. “These slogans remind us that in this atmosphere, the oxygen available is vital and only our continued protection of the environment make it possible.”

On Friday morning as people picked up their season passes, some looked a bit confused over the words but once they were explained, they slowly got the connection.

“That’s really subtle,” said Aspen resident Galen Bright, who got the words “Try more” on his pass. “I wouldn’t have known.”

Another local resident said the messaging falls flat.

“I don’t think the joke worked,” he said of his “Freeze Now.” pass.

When the ticket agent explained what the words meant, Aspenite Dwayne Romero said, “Cool. It’s creative.”

In the gondola Saturday morning, the kick-off to the 2018-19 season, a lively discussion was struck among the occupants over the lift-ticket design.

An older skier said he couldn’t understand why Skico would run with something as negative as cigarette smoking.

The young rider next to him said any young person wouldn’t know the words were drawn from that kind of negativity and, on their own, they are pleasant thoughts.

“I think it’s a cool idea to refocus it into something positive,” he said.

When the question was asked why Skico can’t just put a picture of a mountain on the lift ticket, another skier said that’s what sets Aspen/Snowmass apart from the rest of the ski areas.

“The easiest thing they could do is put a mountain on the pass,” she said. “How many resorts do what we are doing? None. I think it’s a treat to have this and I commend the ski company.”

Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the intent of the artist and the company is to spur conversation, just as last year’s solo cup image from artist Paula Crown, the wife of Skico managing partner Jim Crown, did in talking about sustainability.