2 min

Altitude founder dies

Brent Benaschak loved to break down stereotypes

Credit: Dan Jackson

He put Vancouver/ Whistler on the gay tourism map. And made a career out of throwing a great party.

Brent Benaschak, founder of Altitude, the gay and lesbian ski week at Whistler, died suddenly Dec 30, 2003. He was 41.

“Brent was about uniting communities,” remembers his close friend Rodney Plante. “He had a great passion to bring people together to celebrate. He was generous in time and love and in terms of his spirit.

“He was always trying to do something good.”

Plante describes Benaschak’s death as “sudden. The family wishes no more comment be made.”

An obituary notice put together by friends remembers Brent as “a remarkable, thoughtful, compassionate man. Always a catalyst for wonderful things, his loving spirit lives on in the hearts of many.”

The notice also notes Brent’s love of travel, style, music and his easy laughter and warm smile.

In a “Queer Hero” profile for Xtra West in 2000, the prairie-born Benaschak recalled how he grew to love skiing. When he was 16, his sister got a job in Banff and Brent would travel from Regina, Saskatchewan every long weekend to ski.

At 24, he moved to Montreal to study fashion merchandising. There he met and fell in love with a guy who ran a bed-and-breakfast on Fire Island, New York. On a drive to Whistler, they fell in love with the ski capital and decided to open a B&B there.

The first year they hosted 200 guests; the next year, they had 1200 and Benaschak left the B&B to focus on event management.

It was a major struggle building Altitude for the first six years, Brent told Xtra West. He credited being a Leo and help from his family for making it through those years.

In the 13 years of Altitude, the ski party has grown from a single weekend to a week chock full of three dozen on-slope and apres ski events. Gay tourists come from all over North America, Europe and Australia. About 10 staff and 100 volunteers are required to host the event.

Plante says that Benaschak was “not always an easy person to deal with. But he was a great businessman. And he had a vision of a utopian world.”

Brent was particularly proud of how the rural town of Whistler grew to embrace gay tourists coming to Altitude. “I think we’ve broken down some stereotypes and changed some attitudes,” he told Xtra West in 2000.

The future of Altitude is unknown at this time. Benaschak’s family are meeting with lawyers this week to discuss the company’s status, says Plante. Altitude is scheduled for Jan 31 to Feb 9 this year.

Benaschak was a co-winner of the Business Citizen of the Year award in the 2001 Xtra West Community Heroes ceremony.

A celebration of Brent’s life will be held Jan 11 at 2 pm at the Hotel Vancouver Pacific Ballroom, 900 West Georgia St. In lieu of flowers, friends encourage donations in Brent’s memory to the Western Canada Pediatric AIDS Society (604.684.1701) or the Whistler Community Services Society (604.932.0113).