Arts & Entertainment
4 min


Celebrating 20 years of carpe diem on Whistler's slopes

WinterPriders carry the rainbow banner in a Ski Out that morphed into a Pride march through Whistler Village. Credit: Sergei Bachlakov

I went to Whistler on a Greyhound. I know — Xtra is so cheap. Where was my ’copter?

I was excited because I’d been hearing tons of hype about WinterPride (it was as loud as the hype that got Adele all those Grammys).

Although tradition, majestic scenery, sport, camaraderie and parties helped draw an estimated 2,500 bodies to Whistler for the 20th annual WinterPride, the strongest allure is the beautiful people. For someone whose athleticism doesn’t go beyond plucking his eyebrows and who, while most were on the slopes, spent the daytime wandering shops, cafés and art galleries, it was nice to be surrounded by so many aphrodisiacs.

“There’s sure no shortage of pretty things to look at,” Ireland’s Bradon Heaney agreed with a sly smile. I don’t think he was referring just to the picturesque views or tacky tourist stores (with rainbow flags in the windows to celebrate and capitalize!). WinterPride draws people from all over the world; the entire week is like a UN hot-tub orgy.

Maybe I was intoxicated by the pristine mountain air (or, er, the wine I was inhaling like said air), but Whistler offers total escapism. Forget Vegas. What happens in the mountains stays in the mountains, immortalized by gossiping locals. (“I saw a threesome in a Blackcomb gondola.”)

Of course, not everyone is in it for the sex. There’s that whole skiing/snowboarding/carpe diem thing, too. Australian Marcus Atkinson said he wanted to check out WinterPride because “Canadians are so friendly. Then I get up here and there are a lot of Australians. I can’t bloody get away from them!”

Australians did seem to dominate the international scene, but I also met people from Asia, the US and Europe. “Whistler becomes a cosmopolis for a week,” Johanna Ruiz, from New York City, told me during the Pride march. “I feel like I could pick up a few new languages. It’s not like Pride where it’s just your city celebrating. Here, every city comes together. Every person comes together. I mean, look around!”

I decided that to get intimate with my (cute) interview subjects, we needed to get naked. For time efficiency and multi-tasking reasons, obviously! Barbara Walters has her tactics, and I have mine.

My first victim was hunky Australian Sam Dartnell, who I met at the sold-out pool party. The only complaints I heard all night were that the event needed a second bar and to end later.

Sam and I had watersport fun (no, not that kind, you slut!) and then went back to his room at the Hilton, where he told me, “This is my third year coming up. It’s a break from the real world, and I always make friends. Not just Facebook friends, either,” he laughs. “Some of the people I met a couple years ago from the UK are here again this year, so it’s kind of a reunion.”

The next night I met two Bostonians, Kurt Hosman and Rick Martens, at après-ski.

“We come every year,” Kurt told me. “There’s always good people, not to mention the best skiing in North America. It sort of feels like a home away from home, because every year we see a lot of the same faces, and the whole Whistler community really embraces the Pride spirit, so there’s a sense of belonging here.”

“I’d say Whistler embraces it more and more each year,” Rick added. “It feels like the village is excited to have us. Maybe that’s why it’s successful. People like feeling wanted.”

Manitoba’s Rose Watson, who I met at Purrlesque (which featured Burgundy Brixx and Madame Mae I), told me it was her first time at “pretty much everything.

“I’m learning to ski, I’ve never seen burlesque or a real comedy show. So I’m here for the new experiences. And everyone starts drinking in the afternoon,” she laughed. “If I don’t just stay forever, I’ll definitely be back.”

I snagged a sit-down with WinterPride coordinator Dean Nelson, and don’t worry — I kept this one platonic. Reflecting on how he first became involved with ski week (in a takeover many hailed as the rescue of an event at risk of going defunct), he told me he came in with little expectation. “I just wanted to keep things going. I didn’t know I was going to love doing it so much.”

When asked how the 20th anniversary compared to previous years, he said it was similar, with some differences. “We had our first Pride march, which was very exciting. The mayor [Nancy Wilhelm-Morden] came in and did the proclamation, which was the first time any mayor at a ski resort in the world has done that.”

Nelson told Xtra prior to the start of WinterPride that the event has always had government’s support in principle, but receiving civic status has great symbolic import. “This is being very public about it and actually flying the Pride flag at the municipal hall, so when our international guests are coming in and seeing this type of proactive action, that’s really meaningful,” he said. “It just signals to the LGBT community that Whistler takes our community very seriously, and they appreciate our community and want to make sure that everybody understands that they embrace diversity and it’s not just a marketing ploy — it’s actually in the fabric of our community.”

Dean and his partner Ken Coolen kept the week running smoothly and offered all the party necessities, from bear to fetish to circuit (so many circuit queens came up for the weekend, being in Whistler village was like being inside a disc-ho ball).

Celebrities presents Snowstorm was a rave success that Syren hailed as “The best night in drag I’ve ever had!” Elsewhere, a herd of gays opted to take over Buffalo Bills after being turned off by the high ticket prices to the Snowball (which featured DJ Manny Lehman and an alluring light show by Yuriy Rzhemovskiy).

By then I was already picking up bed bugs on the Greyhound home, but I heard from friends that the spontaneity was “off the hook.” Proving that for 20 years WinterPride has prospered because the party is where the heart is.