Challenge Aspen partners with Aspen Art Museum for veterans’ program |

Challenge Aspen partners with Aspen Art Museum for veterans’ program

Andrew Travers

Challenge Aspen has been bringing military veterans onto the ski slopes in Snowmass since 2006, supporting vets who have cognitive and physical disabilities to get on skis and enjoy the thrill of some supported risk.

Since 2018, the program also has brought vets into the Aspen Art Museum for a new challenge: contending with contemporary art.

Two groups of servicemen and women made their way through the museum in February, as Challenge Aspen hosted couples’ retreats.

“It’s another piece they can add to the mind-body experience,” said John Klonowski, who runs Challenge Aspen’s Military Opportunities (CAMO) program. “It’s another opportunity to have a shared positive experience.”

Much of the Challenge Aspen weeklong veterans’ retreat is focused on the mountain, where vets learn adaptive skiing. Klonowski said the week usually includes four days of skiing, two days of breathwork and one day with sleep therapy, as sleep difficulty is the top issue reported by the community of veterans.

The Aspen Art Museum offers a different kind of challenge for the mind, bringing five couples into the museum for their après-ski breathwork session, followed by a gallery viewing and discussion, closing with a dinner in the rooftop sculpture garden at So Café.

The Challenge Aspen partnership is among the more recent partnerships for the museum, which counts upward of 50 partner organizations for its education and access programs. The initiative — which includes programs with La Tricolor Radio, the Youth Recovery Center, Pitkin County Jail and Ascendigo Autism Services — has brought the museum national recognition, including winning the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2017.

On a recent evening, five couples gathered to take in Seth Price’s exhibition “No Technique,” which showcases the New York-based artist Seth Price’s “Knot Paintings.” Made between 2009 and 2012, the sculptural paintings were created by encasing objects — typically ropes — through a “vacuum forming” process. It was displayed in the museum’s first-floor gallery space, with a white noise machine accompanying the show.

The retreat included five couples, who came to Aspen from Colorado Springs, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Florida and South Carolina. The couples talked about the frays of the ropes, the possible dark connotations of a knotted rope, and the playfulness of these unfussy paintings.

“Art is an opportunity to be moved and interact and pay attention,” said Emily Hightower, who led the evening’s breathwork session. “Doing breath beforehand gives the opportunity to show up emboldened and relaxed and give the opportunity to practice the skills for bring stimulated, changing your reaction.”