About 2,500 gays and lesbians from around the world converged on Whistler for a week of skiing, camaraderie and fun at the 16th annual gay ski week, Feb 3-10.
Bill Sheldon, one of many international attendees, travelled from Melbourne, Australia to take in the festivities.
“I’m here for the skiing —it’s the best skiing in the world,” he says. “I’ve been up here three times before and I find it’s a bit more community-focused and a little less commercial than in previous years.”
Dean Nelson, director of community relations at Alpenglow Productions, has been working hard to make WinterPride more community-oriented.
“We’re working with our community to engage our community and not be so commercial,” he says. “We’re just working with a multitude of guests throughout the world who want to come and be a part of the magic of Whistler.”
Eduardo Chirino has skied in places like Italy, Argentina, Utah and Aspen but, like Sheldon, he considers Whistler the best place in the world.
“I love to ski, I’ve been doing it since I was six years old,” says the Mexico City native. “I used to go skiing with my mother in Colorado. My mother died in a skiing accident five years ago and I make sure I keep skiing to keep her memory alive.”
Since taking the reigns of Whistler’s gay ski week three years ago, Alpenglow Productions has expanded its programming to ensure people who don’t particularly enjoy skiing can still take part in other activities, like daily après ski get-togethers, health and wellness seminars, live entertainment and nightly dance parties.
“There are all sorts of activities for people who don’t want to ski,” says Nelson. “You’re not just sitting in the lodge going, ‘What can I do?’ My friend Patrick here doesn’t ski, but his partner does. So he’s volunteering and participating in other activities.”
The men’s après parties were crowded, lively affairs complete with a giant penis made of ice. Men from all over the world connected, reconnected and networked with one another, including Bill Westergaard of Evergreen, Colorado who happened upon a friend he met down in Mexico last summer.
“We ran into this wonderful gentleman that my partner Patrick and I met at a beach in Puerto Vallarta,” he says. “I met a bunch of wonderful people down there and we just ran into him like a Mac train. But I didn’t recognize him in clothing.”
Though most of the men shed their ski gear prior to attending Tuesday’s après ski party, one Bostonian quickly discovered the merits of keeping his snowsuit on.
“I’ve already been propositioned in the woodshed, probably because I’m actually dressed for skiing,” says Alex, who was reluctant to reveal his last name. “I haven’t showered or changed since I started skiing. I don’t see anyone else dressed like me here. They all look like they’re dressed for the nightclub!”
Libby Hartman was one of only a few lesbians visibly in attendance at the men’s après ski parties. For her, these events are about friendship and community —regardless of gender.
“This is my second year up. We come up and ski and have fun,” she says. “I won’t be attending any of the lesbian events because my friends up here are mostly gay men and I want to hang out with them and they’ll be going to the men’s events.”
This year’s expanded WinterPride programming featured more events geared specifically towards women, including daily women’s après ski parties, the sold out L Party, women’s ski instruction and women’s entertainment.
“This group [Alpenglow] has done a lot more to have been much more inclusive than Altitude was,” says Cherrie Litson, who has been coming up from Seattle for years to attend gay ski week, since its early days as Altitude. “It’s gotten better and better every year. I think it’s doing really well. They’ve made a real conscience effort to make it welcoming for women.”
Cindy Kirkham of Seattle came for the “freakin’ snow and the girls,” she says. “The girls wore me down and the snow is just a bonus. This is my third or fourth year. It just gets better and better. More women are discovering it.”
“Our whole philosophy is love each other and be who you want to be,” says Alpenglow’s Nelson. “If you want to have a quiet ski week you can do that, or if you want to have a wild crazy time you can do that as well.
“There were quite a few events for Sunday that were sold out in advance,” he notes. “The L Party completely sold out, as well as the comedy night and some of the après.”
Although skiing remained a big focus of this year’s event, organizers also took time to commemorate the meaning of gay Pride.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Pride flag, which was designed by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. In 2003, Baker created a special 2 km Pride flag to celebrate its 25th anniversary. When unfurled in Key West, Florida, the flag extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. It was then cut up and distributed to Pride organizations throughout the world.
On Feb 8 WinterPride participants proudly carried one of those pieces through Whistler village.
That wasn’t the only Pride flag flying in the village for Whistler’s gay ski week.
The poles leading into the village had Pride banners hanging from them and nearly every other business had Pride stickers and flags in their windows.
“The restaurants are happy, the hotels are happy,” says Nelson. “One thing the community appreciates is that this is a very, very happy and positive group.
“We’ve had no complaints,” he continues. “It gets better and better every year. Everyone is having a great time. We’re getting a lot of feedback. The snow conditions are incredible and we’re really happy with the turnout.”