3 min

‘A bit of a rip-off’

But new friends still make Altitude worth it for most

Credit: Tyler Hopson

Poor ski conditions and new ownership troubles were not enough to keep thousands of skiers from this year’s gay ski week, but rising prices might make some attendees think twice about coming back.

Enthusiastic and affluent skiers came to Whistler from all over the world for the 13th annual Altitude, held from Jan 29 to Feb 7.

The warm temperatures and heavy rain BC experienced mid-January meant patches of brown grass were evident in and around Whistler village for the first half of gay ski week. But almost everyone at Wednesday’s après-ski event said the trip was worth it.

“We’re making the best of it,” says Michael Sweeney, a doctor from Washington DC. “Despite the weather, people still came. There’s a strong sense of community.”

“It’s a shame about the snow,” says Simon Williams who came to Whistler with a group of friends from London, England.

The lack of snow made his “ski-in, ski-out” hotel a “walk-in, walk-out” instead.

Williams isn’t sure the money he spent for entertainment events was worth it, noting the week’s opening party, in particular, was a disappointment. “I don’t feel they’re doing something for the money,” says Williams. “It’s a bit of a rip-off.”

Sweeney echoes Williams’ sentiments about the opening celebration on Jan 30. For a $25 entrance fee, guests were presented with various corporate tables, most of them trying to sell products. “They should have hosted the event for us, not businesses. It’s too profit-driven,” he says.

Altitude operates on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, with each event costing a fixed fee. Prices range from $15 for morning yoga sessions, to $50 for Thursday’s Uniform party, to $95 for Saturday’s Snowball circuit party. All-inclusive party passes were available on a limited basis to attendees.

Williams says he paid $320 for his entertainment package, a price he feels was too high. He particularly disagrees with the $20 to $25 organizers charged for entrance to each of the week’s après-ski events. The amount got attendees in the door but did not pay for drinks or food.

Eleven-year Altitude veterans Mike Haddad and Steve Larson say Altitude 2005 was well organized but the prices keep going up.

“It’s better organized, but there are less amenities,” says Larson. “We actually come to ski, so we don’t do the big parties.”

Larson says the event is about reconnecting with old friends for those in his group.

Haddad says he and friends tried skiing in Quebec one year, but the weather was far too cold. They are now thinking about trying the new gay ski weekend in Banff next year.

“The first years at these kinds of events are the best, then they get too big. It’s a business thing now,” says Larson.

Israel Halcomb came from Alaska for his third Altitude ski week. Halcomb says the number of people at events seemed fewer this year than in the past but he still has a lot of friends that come.

“I keep scaling back what I go to because it costs more and more. But as long as my friends keep coming, I’ll come too,” Halcomb says.

New Altitude owner and organizer Lee Bergeron says Altitude 2005 was “absolutely a success.”

Bergeron says he’s happy “the boys and girls still showed up” considering the snow was as bad as it has been in 30 years at the week’s start.

Bergeron, who bought Altitude from the family of Brent Benaschak after Benaschak committed suicide in December 2003, says he learned a lot about Altitude this year and plans to improve the event for next year.

Regarding prices, Bergeron acknowledges gay ski week is not cheap. “I know this event is expensive,” he says.

But Bergeron says he only expects to make marginal profit. “The event doesn’t make much, if any money,” he says. “I like the project, I love the people I work with and this year I got to know a lot of the attendees. At this point, I’m doing it because I get something back and what I get back is not financial.”

Californian Dean Daniels arrived in Whistler mid-week for his third gay ski week. He says the week seemed to be organized just as well as in past years, but the lack of snow put a slight damper on things.

Still, the chance to meet other gay guys while skiing and snowboarding is worth the trip, Daniels says, as he relaxes with a beer and some new friends at Wednesday’s après-ski. “I can’t find a date on the chairlifts at home,” he notes.