It’s about the camaraderie of being with like-minded guys, says Randy Newell as he hangs up his coat and makes room for himself among the ski jackets, bags of gear and guys crowding around at Rossland Pride’s Saturday night après ski event.
Newell has just come down off Red Mountain after a mixed day of blizzards, sun and, of course, great skiing.
“This is my first year,” he confides.
He may be new to Rossland’s gay ski week but he’s no stranger to skiing.
Newell is a member of Ski Buddies, an organization from the Pacific Northwest that brings together gays and lesbians who share an interest in winter sports.
Rossland Pride is unique in the spectrum of gay ski weeks available, Newell says, eyeing the bartender as he comes around taking drink orders.
“I think it’s good, there are a lot of fun things about it,” he continues.
One of those fun things is, of course, the skiing. Red Mountain offers some of the best ski conditions in Canada.
But it’s the intimacy of the town — and the sense of community that comes from such a small group of guys descending on a very small community — that really make this event special.
It’s both comforting and comfortable to see guys on the hill adorned in Mardi Gras beads, smiling and chatting as they ski in to meet at the chair lift. Meeting up with all the same people a few hours later at the evening’s organized event creates a unique and intimate gathering experience.
“People are looking for something a little bit different,” suggests organizer Deanne Stevens. “They recognize that it’s a small town.”
Still, bringing a group of 30-60 gay people to a small ski town in BC’s interior does not go unnoticed by the local population.
Last year’s inaugural gay ski week in Rossland was somewhat marred by some vandalism that was clearly homophobic in nature.
Beer in hand on the back deck of the Red Mountain Resort base lodge, Stevens says last year’s vandalism does not reflect the attitudes of the community as a whole.
“Not at all, the Kootenays are really liberal. It’s unfortunate about that fellow,” she says of the local resident who allegedly objected to the gay presence.
When asked if there was ever any consideration of postponing or cancelling this year’s event, Stevens responds with a resolute “no.”
Though the town’s official gay ski week is still in its infancy, Stevens points out that the Ski Buddies group has been bringing people to Rossland for years. With the queers already coming, she simply decided to build on what already existed — and “see if we can do a little more for them.”
Until 2008, Rossland’s “gay ski week” was an informal event of 70-80 people fending for themselves in town and on the hill. That changed after a committee of gay-friendly locals, a couple of business members, and a few members of Rossland’s very small gay community came together to make it official.
The job of putting it all together landed on Stevens’ desk at the town’s tourism bureau. She took the reins and organized evening events, a brunch on the hill, dinners, DJs, a live band and plenty of drinks to keep the guests going well into the night.
In its first year, Rossland’s gay ski week — BC’s second after Whistler’s world-famous gay ski week, now in its 17th year — was a success, Stevens says. The Ski Buddies group turned out in force, joined by a large group from Kelowna, a few skiers from Edmonton and one Vancouverite.
Stories of raunchy hot tub parties, Jell-O shooters gone wild and a lot of ass grabbing were fondly told and re-told this year.
But “this year was a little bit quieter,” Stevens admits. Attendance dropped to about 30 people. “The economy is a bit softer,” she says.
Plus some of the events planned for this year fizzled, like the snowshoe race at a local lesbian-run lodge where participation just didn’t materialize.
Not that Stevens was hoping for a huge turnout. “Our goal is still to keep it small,” she notes. Still, she says, “the quality of the event is perfect at about 60 people.”
Next year she plans to do more marketing and start organizing events and sponsorship a little sooner. “I think we have an opportunity to make it a little bigger,” she says. “We could be doing more.”
Newell, beer finally in hand, says he plans to return next year. Most of the guys here do.
As the back patio starts to fill up with red-faced skiers, Stevens smiles. “It’s an intimate event with a whole bunch of like-minded people,” she concludes.