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Low loonie great for gay ski week in Whistler

Whistler Pride 2016 to welcome guests from more than 26 countries

The plummeting Canadian dollar could raise the fortunes of the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival, organizers say.

The annual event always has a large American contingent, but the ever-dropping loonie could spike those numbers even further this year, says Dean Nelson, CEO of GayWhistler.com and the Whistler Pride and Ski Week (previously known as WinterPride).

He acknowledges that alcohol is more expensive in Canada than in the US, but the strong greenback helps balance that differential. And accommodation costs can look like a Black Friday sale.

“When you’re looking at the hotel prices, it might be, say, $130, but you’re actually only paying $100 for that,” Nelson says.

The festival, running Jan 23–31, 2016, is about far more than skiing. There is a long list of social and artistic events intended to appeal to every category and interest, the names of which — Furrocious, Purrlesque, Splash, Cowboy/Cowgirl and such — give subtle hints at the targeted cadre.

“We’re most excited about Oh Snow She Didn’t,” says Nelson, referring to an event that warns: “four of America’s frostiest ice queens join forces for one night of music and comedy.”

“We’re really, really excited to be able to bring these four amazing artists together,” he says. “It’s not a typical drag performance. It’s a real comedy show with music. Some of our artists are really well known for their parodies that they do on YouTube. They are live-singing, it’s not lip sync, and it’s going to be absolutely hysterical.”

The Whistler Pride parade has moved from Friday to Saturday this year, a move Nelson says may make it more accessible to youth. It starts at 3:30pm and proceeds from Blackcomb mountain to Whistler Village.

A “Pride showcase” of businesses and non-profit organizations, including the Pride societies of Vancouver, Surrey and New Westminster, will have booths set up at the end of the parade route.

Whistler Pride gives a big boost to the local economy. Last year, Nelson says, the economic impact was projected at around $4.4 million, with visitors’ average length of stay 5.3 nights and an accumulated 2,922 of volunteer hours donated.

The event also raises funds for causes. Total donations in 2015 were just over $25,000, with $10,000 of that coming from a single anonymous donation to A Loving Spoonful. The next largest recipient was Rainbow Refugee Committee, which garnered about $4,000.

In addition to a hoped-for spike in American visitors, Nelson says they have already registered attendees from 26 countries, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. There is always, he says, substantial contingents from the UK, Ireland and Australia.

Whistler remains one of the top gay ski week destinations, despite a major increase in competition over recent years.

“When we first started there was only two of us, there was Aspen and there was Whistler,” Nelson says. “Now we’re up to probably around 15 or 20 ski weeks now, so it’s pretty remarkable.”

Asked if there’s still a need for gay-specific ski events, Nelson doesn’t hesitate. “Just because we have full equality here in Canada doesn’t mean that other people around the world do. We have a very huge international clientele that come to visit that are still in a very hostile territory,” he says.

“Even here in British Columbia, we still have issues with homophobia,” he adds.

For Nelson, it’s about raising public awareness, and “creating a really warm, welcoming atmosphere for everybody to come together and just be who they are.”