The first things I notice as the shuttle pulls into Whistler Village are the rainbows.
Richard Kaye noticed them too. "It's just nice to see," he tells me, sitting by a roaring fireplace at Thursday's après ski, surrounded by many of the 16 friends he brought with him to WinterPride from London, England.
"Whistler has never been an unwelcoming place," Kaye says, "but it's nice to see a formal recognition of gay and lesbian skiers."
The prominent display of rainbows was one of the first things Dean Nelson and his co-investors implemented when they rescued Whistler's ailing gay ski week from imminent collapse in 2006. "If we take this on, we need to make sure the community is behind us," he told Whistler tourism and businesses at the time. "We need to greet our visitors and show them they're welcome."
Five years later, Kaye feels the welcome is now woven into Whistler's fabric. "It all just seems very casual and easy and not forced," he says. "I like that."
Even today's rain couldn't put a damper on Kaye's group. The gang stayed inside in their pyjamas and watched a British costume drama on PBS, Tom Sleigh tells me. "That sounds very gay, doesn't it?" he laughs after a moment's reflection.
"It was quite butch, though," his partner, Chris Byrne, interjects with a wicked smile.
"We were looking for an organized ski trip and saw that Pride was on," Sleigh says when asked what drew him to Whistler this week. "It's nice to be around like-minded people. It lowers the barriers to conversation."
An hour and a half into the après-ski, the room is packed. Attendance is up this year, beating even 2009's pre-Olympic numbers, Nelson says.
Since buying out his original partners in 2008, Nelson hasn't had the easiest ride, given the world economy's crash and all. "It's been a challenge, but I think we've weathered the storm pretty good," he says. "I think we've shown our community and our sponsors that the event just keeps getting more and more stable."
Now if only it would stop raining. Costume dramas aren't really my thing.