Escaping to a winter wonderland made easy with start of gay ski circuit
By Matt Hennie
Wax the skis and lace up the boots. The gay ski season opens in early January, beginning a circuit that includes more than a dozen events and jumps across three continents.
There’s a winter wonderland for everyone on the calendar, from events that cater to inexperienced skiers and snowboarders to larger ones with a circuit party feel and smaller, more intimate affairs.
|Photos credit Dick Mitchell|
The tradition of gathering with gay and lesbian friends on the slopes started in Aspen, Colo., some 31 years ago. Aspen Gay Ski Week has grown into an annual event that now attracts about 4,000 people, according to Chris Alexander-Manley, a marketing consultant for the gathering who also is vice president of GayDays.com, which promotes the popular summer event in Orlando.
"It is an international draw with the parties, the shopping and the beautiful sites," Alexander-Manley said. "There is a beautiful historic downtown and it is some of the best skiing in the world."
Participants return to the event year after year to renew friendships, enjoy the posh resorts and take part in the non-ski events that are part of the week, including hospitality suites, a boutique stroll, downhill costume competition and late-night parties, he said. This year, the event will also feature a panel discussion on gays in sports and the annual gay vs. straight hockey game.
"There are groups that book a year in advance because they want to get their same accommodations. Our biggest salesperson is people who have been there before. When someone new is coming, they always talk about how much they’ve heard about it," Alexander-Manley said.
WinterPride 2008 in Whistler, British Columbia earned the nod of Ed Salvato, editor-in-chief of Out Traveler magazine, which also profiled the Aspen event, Elevation 2008 in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., and Winter Rendezvous XXIV in Stowe, Vt., in its Winter 2007 issue. Salvato credits the Whistler event for its "super-friendly and super-inviting" atmosphere, not to mention that it offers 8,200 acres of skiable terrain and will host the 2010 Winter Olympics.
"Part of the adventure is the spectacular drive in to Whistler," Salvato said. "A lot of people will extend their trip and spend a fun gay weekend in Seattle or Vancouver."
For an event a little more intimate, try Winter Rendezvous in Vermont. In its 23rd year, Rendezvous attracts a diverse crowd that has expanded from an older and bearish group to include crunchy granola types, lesbians and younger gay man among its nearly 300 attendees.
"We have 28 year olds to 80 year olds and everything in between," said Michael Wilson, organizer of the event. "It is a nice mix of people that go every year."
Rendezvous is also one of just two gay ski weeks on the East Coast. The other, Winter Explosion 2008, draws a mostly African-American crowd to Upstate New York.
Wilson, in his second year of running Rendezvous, ramped up the event’s marketing to help publicize the non-skiing side of the week, from nightly DJs, a Martini bikini hot tub party, gay skate night at a local rink and chair massages.
"If you like to drink vodka and sit in hot tubs, this is made for you," he said.
French and Salvato said gay ski week attendees should do their homework before settling on an event. Look closely at cost, accommodations, activities off the slopes and the size and type of crowd each event attracts to find one that fits your experience and comfort level, they said.
"There are ones that are going to be a little more amenable to the first-time person," Salvato said. "I would choose one that is a little bit smaller, a little bit more home spun, more regional. That is a good way of getting your ski legs. It’s a little bit less intimidating. You can get lost in the crowd in Aspen, even in Whistler."
If you eschew the larger, more structured gay ski weeks, Ski Bums offers its 450 members a schedule of trips beginning in January that include 40 to 50 people and sites such as Jackson Hole, Wyo., Killington, Vt., and France.
"We are trying to do a little something different from the gay ski weeks. We’re really trying to build a community and an opportunity for people to take multiple trips together," French said.
GAY SKI CALENDAR 2008
Arosa Gay Skiweek
Utah Gay & Lesbian Ski Week
Park City, Utah
Aspen Gay Ski Week
South Lake Tahoe’s Gay & Lesbian Ski Week
Lake Tahoe, Nev.
Winter Rendezvous XXIV
Jan. 30-Feb. 3
Vail Gay & Lesbian Ski Week
Jan. 30-Feb. 4
Whistler, British Columbia
Winter Explosion 2008
Telluride Gay Ski Week
Feb. 23-March 1
Lake Tahoe WinterFest Gay & lesbian Ski Week
Lake Tahoe, Nev.
Mammoth Gay Ski Week
Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
The European Gay Ski Week
March 29-April 5
Gay Ski Week NZ
Aug. 29-Sept. 7
Queenstown, New Zealand