First Nations art-wrapped gondolas on Whistler-Blackcomb Peak 2 Peak

First Nations art-wrapped gondolas on Whistler-Blackcomb Peak 2 Peak

“These shapes come from and are inspired by my ancestors,” said artist Levi Nelson

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Visitors to Whistler Blackcomb might notice something different about two of the gondolas on the Peak 2 Peak line.

Earlier this year, the resort’s owners, the Colorado-based company Vail Resorts, wrapped two of the gondola cabins with decals inspired by work by artists from the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish) and Lilwat7úl (Lil’wat) nations. Whistler Blackcomb is on the shared unceded territory of the two nations.

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The two cabins are part of The Gondola Gallery by Epic, a Vail Resorts initiative to celebrate diversity and inclusivity and the idea that, in the company’s words, “Every skier and snowboarder has their own unique story how they came to the slopes.”

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Levi Nelson’s Red painting inspired the art on this cabin, part of Vail Resorts’s Gondola Gallery by Epic on the Peak 2 Peak. Credit: Whistler Blackcomb/Vail Resorts sun

Along with the two B.C. gondola cabins, two others — one in Park City Mountain in Utah and another at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont — also received facelifts. The American cabins used work by Jim Harris and Lamont Joseph White, respectively. Harris is a walking paraplegic and White is Black.

Along with the public outdoor art, The Gondola Gallery by Epic initiative includes a series of short films about the artists, their work, and their relationship with the mountains and ski culture.

The B.C. artists are Squamish weavers Chepximiya Siyam’ Janice George and Skwetsimeltxw Willard (Buddy) Joseph and Lil’wat painter Levi Nelson.

A trained museum curator, George is a hereditary chief and co-organized the first Canada Northwest Coast Weavers Gathering. Joseph is the former director of Squamish Housing and Capital Projects and currently consults on similar work for First Nations communities. The duo co-founded L’hen Awtxw Weaving House to share the teachings and practice of traditional Coast Salish wool weaving.

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Their Gondola Gallery wrap is based on their work Wings of Thunder, a geometric design that uses motifs from Salish weavings. It’s inspired by the Thunderbird, a grandfather figure who cares for the Squamish people and is said to live on in Garibaldi Park’s Black Tusk volcanic formation.

“I wanted to make sure that the story of the Thunderbird is carried on, that people understand,” said George. “I think that’s part of making people appreciate the land more if they know the story about it.”

“When we get the opportunity to do similar work, like at the Vancouver Mural Fest or with the Vancouver Art Gallery, the messaging is basically the same,” Joseph said. “If you’re in Squamish territory, here’s something that’s about us. In our case it’s weaving and telling stories through weaving — and designing a gondola.”

Nelson’s painting Red provides the inspiration for the other Peak 2 Peak Gondola Gallery by Epic cabin. Red is a sacred colour with Indigenous culture, he says. “These shapes come from and are inspired by my ancestors.”

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Weavers Chief Janice George and Buddy Joseph contributed art to a cabin as part of Vail’s Gondola Gallery by Epic on the Peak 2 Peak. Credit: Matt Sylvestre Courtesy: Whistler Blackcomb/Vail Resorts sun

Vail Resorts approached the artist while he was working on his master’s at Columbia University in New York.

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“The thesis consisted of four paintings total, including this one,” said Nelson. He counts among his influences B.C. Indigenous contemporary painters Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun and Shawn Hunt. “I guess when I posted my thesis project to Instagram it was seen by the people here in B.C. and then I was approached and asked if I would like to be involved.”

Nelson learned how to ski on Whistler when he was “four or five,” so seeing his work traverse the sky between the majestic peaks is a thrill. But starring in the Gondola Gallery short film meant revisiting those old skills, not to mention getting new equipment.

“When snowboarding became really cool I became a snowboarder, but I was never good at it,” he said. “I always had a miserable time on the mountain and kept falling down. So when this project came up and they were like, ‘We want to film you skiing’ I was like, ‘I know how to ski, I think.’ I had to buy all the gear. But it was just like riding a bike.”

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Chief Janice George and Buddy Joseph’s Wings of Thunder adorns a cabin on the Peak 2 Peak gondola. Credit: Whistler Blackcomb/Vail Resorts sun

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