Steamboat Springs The snow was light and soft underfoot, reflecting the bright noon sun as 10 snowshoers picked their way carefully through a wide-open meadow atop Rabbit Ears Pass.
They moved deliberately and methodically in circles and spirals, with each step taking them one closer to a finished piece of artwork that is imprinted and impermanent, representing beauty at the whim of Mother Nature.
“In the end, the snow is going to melt away, and that’s the end of the story,” said Sonja Hinrichsen, a contemporary artist visiting from San Francisco.
But not before the final product is captured through photography, video and the memories of those who stomped through the snow for hours Saturday to create a giant work of art.
Hinrichsen organized three such excursions in the past two weeks, enlisting the help of community members to create the large-scale snow drawings.
She has been doing similar projects on her own across the country from New York to Aspen, but in Steamboat, she thought the outdoor- and snow-oriented community would be a perfect fit for a collaborative project.
“It’s everybody’s,” she said about the piece. “I gave them certain parameters and an overall concept because I want it to be a cohesive piece, but they just go as they wish.”
As she gave directions to the group of 10 that assembled Saturday morning on Rabbit Ears Pass, some of the newcomers asked her how they were supposed to walk.
But Hinrichsen isn’t so concerned with details. In fact, she welcomes the diversity of gaits visible in the multiple spirals stomped into the snow.
“You walk how you walk,” she said. “It’s like if you imagine working with different kinds of pencils, like really hard ones or soft ones. … It adds a diversity to it that’s really cool.”
On Jan. 27, Hinrichsen led a group in a project at Haymaker Golf Course, but the wind swept their designs away before they finished.
Last weekend, she brought six people to Rabbit Ears Pass to create designs in a large meadow near the West Summit across the road from this week’s venue.
She went up in an airplane afterward to capture aerial images of the project.
“I always loved those big snow surfaces,” Hinrichsen said about why she began making snow art three years ago. “I thought, ‘I have to do something with this.’ It came out of play, really.”
Betsy Blakeslee, the manager at Carpenter Ranch where Hinrichsen did snow drawings by herself last winter, participated in both Rabbit Ears Pass drawings.
“We came out on this open meadow, and that was our canvas,” Blakeslee reflected. “And (Hinrichsen) just told us to walk in spirals. It was very meditative for me. She said there was no way we could screw up.”
Last week’s project barely was visible across the street from Saturday’s blank, open meadow because the footprints had been covered by blowing snow. One more day of gusty winds, and that work could be gone forever. A large snowstorm could bury it, or a warm bout could melt it.
Hinrichsen said it’s the impermanent nature of the project that intrigues her. She also works in video and performance art, works that interact with the environment around her and leave no lasting impact.
“I’m not so into making art that lasts,” she said. “The world is saturated with manmade projects. I don’t think I need to add more things to the planet.”
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com