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Short Turns: Warhol on Snow



Editor Seth Masia
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To preserve skiing history and to increase awareness of the sport’s heritage

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Short Turns: Warhol on Snow

By Jay Cowan

The celebrity artist visited Aspen for more than 20 years.

Andy Warhol died in 1987. But his cultural significance remains white hot, as his obession with fame, celebrity and personal branding is more relevant than ever in today’s media–dominated world. Perhaps predictably, Warhol mania is on the rise, with plays staged in London and New York and the airing of the Netflix series The Andy Warhol Diaries, all exploring the man and the myth. What isn’t commonly known about Warhol is that he was enchanted with Aspen, bought property there and visited often enough to be considered a part-time local.

(Photo above: credit Mark Sink)

The man who deified Campbell’s soup cans (to his lasting regret, he claimed) had been coming to Aspen off and on for about 15 years before he even learned to ski. That happened in December of 1981, when he and photographer Christopher Makos decided to take a lesson at Buttermilk. As longtime Aspen instructor Gerry Bohn recalls, “I was a supervisor at the time, and we ran out of instructors, so I gave him a two-hour private.”

Warhol wrote in his diary about the Powder Pandas slope and its T-bar: “We did about two hours of zigzagging and going up the handrail and you just sort of sit on the thing and go up the whole hill and it was really fun.” He also mentioned falling three times, which isn’t bad for a first-time skier.

Denver-based photographer Mark Sink lived part time in Aspen then and worked for Warhol at Interview magazine. He remembers meeting Warhol and Makos at Buttermilk that day. “We just talked at the base,” says Sink. “I asked if he had tried the ‘flying wedge’ down; he thought that was a funny term. He was done for the day, hurt his hand in a fall on the baby hill. His Rolex hurt his wrist, apparently. I remember him talking about Reggie Jackson and other stars in the lift line. His star-spotting was amazing anywhere we went.”

In 1966, Warhol guest-edited
this edition of the Aspen Times

On that same visit, Warhol and Calvin Klein met Paramount heavyweight Barry Diller and his ski instructor for lunch at West Buttermilk. Then Warhol went for dinner with Diller, Italian film producer Marina Cicogna and Diana Ross at Andre’s, where Ross, as Warhol recalled in his diary, was wearing “a cowboy hat and big white shoes” and danced on top of the table. A media star himself, habitually surrounded by celebrities, Warhol was as star-struck as any skier who drove up from Denver for the day.

Warhol first came to Aspen in the mid-1960s at the invitation of locals John and Kimiko Powers, major modern art collectors and some of his biggest patrons. John was running the Aspen Center for Contemporary Art at a time when it was one of the most important avant-garde art communities in the country. Warhol participated in several Colorado exhibitions sponsored by Powers. And in 1966 he guest-edited the third issue of an experimental arts and culture magazine called Aspen (also known as Aspen in a Box), founded by part-time Aspenite Phyllis Johnson, a former editor at Women’s Wear Daily and Advertising Age. Warhol’s issue, like all of them, was bundled in a box, which he had designed to resemble one of his trademark cultural references, a package of Fab laundry detergent.

In 2021, the Aspen Art Museum
staged a Warhol retrospective.

Far from just a casual visitor, Warhol during this period bought land just downvalley from Aspen. In the early ’80s he also bought a house in Aspen and devoted a chapter of his book America to the town.

In the summer of 1984, at the star-studded Aspen Tennis Festival fundraiser for the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation, Warhol arrived on the back of a Harley piloted by Jack Nicholson. Warhol offered to do a portrait of the highest bidder at the celebrity auction, and it drew so much interest that he agreed to do four of them at $40,000 each, raising a quick and generous $160,000 for the cause. It would be his last trip to town before his death.

The Powers Art Center near Aspen, which showcases John and Kimiko’s collection, continues to regularly display many of Warhol’s works. And his only major museum retrospective in North America in 2021-22 recently closed at the Aspen Art Museum. The cliché about Aspen is that real locals came for the skiing but stayed for the intriguing people. For Warhol, it was always about the people, and the skiing was mainly a way to meet more of them. 


Allais coached what
he knew.

1952 Voice of Experience
No one knew better than Coach Émile Allais what the team was up against. Once the greatest of all racers in Europe, he had lost his front teeth years ago at Chamonix in the French Alps and shared this deficit now with most of his boys who had lost theirs at places like Reno, Aspen and Whitefish, Mont. He not only knew all the tricks but invented most of them himself, including a special racing crouch, ventilated goggles that would not fog up and even a new method of skiing. — Marshall Smith, “Hell on Snow,” on the American downhill team training for the 1952 Oslo Olympic Games (Life Magazine, February 11, 1952)

1970 Timeless Tuning Tip
It’s a great day. Great snow. You feel great. But your new skis seem to have a mind of their own. So you tighten your boots, loosen your bindings, have your poles shortened. But your skiing is still going haywire. Before you pack the whole shebang into the attic, take a look at your ski bottoms. Minor problems there often cause major problems in your technique, even with new, high-priced skis. — Editors, “Sure, Why Not Blame Your Skis?” (Skiing Magazine, February 1970)

1974 View from Texas
The important point to remember about skiing is that until the basic skills are mastered, the sport is not to be enjoyed. —
Suzanne O’Malley, “Who is That, Lying in the Snow in a $200 Ski Outfit?” (Texas Monthly, December 1974)

Killy laments

1980 Not So Special
With the extreme specialization we see today, a good downhiller cannot be a good slalom skier the way it was when I raced. — Jean-Claude Killy, interview (Powder Magazine, September 1980)

1998 Mountains of Opportunity
Now at least I can get my vacuum cleaner fixed in Ketchum and I certainly couldn’t do that when I moved here 20 years ago. New entrepreneurs are filling up business niches I didn’t even realize existed. Tourism might just be a phase in the economic growth of mountain towns. —“State Rep: In Search of Common Ground,” Wendy Jaquet, interview (Snow Country Magazine, February-March 1998)

2000 Can You Hear Me Now?
I would like to ski in the fantasy land with the three gentlemen who wrote against cell-phone use on the slopes. I am lucky enough to live and work 10 minutes from a great ski area and if I can steal a few hours from work to go skiing, then the cell phone is a small price to pay. It sure beats being stuck at your office desk waiting for that one call that might bring in a huge deal. I would imagine that skiers—real skiers, anyway—will agree that skiing is better than working. I also enjoy calling my friends and telling them what they are missing. — Steven Strauss, Coplay, Pa., “Pro Phone,” Letters (SKI Magazine, May-June 2000)



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