Panel, parties and skiing highlight the event

By Cyd Zeigler Jr.

I’ve been to Aspen Gay Ski Week twice now, and each time I’ve left with a greater affection for Aspen. It’s a gorgeous little town, nestled in a valley a half-hour flight southwest of Denver.

Just frigid

The weather is always the same: Cold, cloudy, chance of snow. This year, it was crazy-cold, minus-14 the night before I arrived; high of 14 for the three days I was there. I ended up not skiing, but it was cold enough just walking around the town for 20 minutes at a time, hopping from coffee shop to tea shop looking for something hot.

GLAAD’s Apres Amaechi

GLAAD hosted a fundraiser at a gorgeous home above the town of Aspen. The special guest was out former NBA player John Amaechi. Our friend Neil Giuliano was there, stopping by en route to Sundance. It was a wonderful surprise to see Adam Sanderson, the triathlete we profiled a couple years ago on Outsports .

I continue to be so impressed with Amaechi and his incredible ability to articulate complex ideas in accessible ways. And it’s not just the British accent that makes him sound smart!

The Downhill Costume Contest

One of the highlights of the annual ski week, the contest features those brave enough to take to skis in elaborate costumes.

Several entrants deserved to win. While he didn’t have much of a chance given the other costumes, the guy who skied down the slope in little more than very tight shorts certainly deserved it (as I said, it was a high of 14 degrees). There was another great ensemble of three people dressed as Indian gods; they took second.

But the entrant who took the grand prize was a guy who came down in a white box with a toilet seat inside. Yep, he skied down as Sen. Larry Craig in a Minneapolis rest room. Classic.

Gays In Sports discussion

The point of my trip to Aspen was to host a panel discussion about gays in sports Friday night.

Gay-themed panel discussions can often turn into cheerleading sessions, with all the panelists featuring relatively similar viewpoints and perspectives. Softballs are lobbed up to them and they hit single after single. When I put together a panel discussion, I try to mix it up; and when I moderate them, I aim to find points of contention between the panelists. It makes them entertaining.

I was blessed with a great group of guys for this one. Amaechi, ESPN columnist LZ Granderson and out NCAA ski champion Ryan Quinn joined our token straight guy, Match Murphy of the Aspen Rugby Club, to talk about “Gays in Sports: The Invisible Athlete.”

One of the topics at hand was how much progress had been made in getting sports to accept gay people. Amaechi is a very bottom-line guy — there are no openly gay active pro team-sports athletes, no openly gay pro coaches, and very few pro teams have gay-friendly team policies. He consistently asserts that, because of that, there has been no real change. Granderson, Quinn and Murphy saw it differently, pointing to the acceptance of out collegiate athletes, and growing acceptance of gay people in society as a whole, as examples of change.

The hockey team

The panel was organized by Glenn Witman, the captain of Team G-Force, a collection of gay hockey “all stars” who play together every year in what has come to be known as The Friendship Cup. Every year they play a game during Gay Ski Week against Team Eurotrash; or, as the posters affectionately referred to them, “The Straights.”

The hockey team hosted a great party after the discussion, and it rocked, as promised. If you’re headed to Aspen Gay Ski Week in the future, you’ve got to hook up with the hockey team (figuratively, if not literally). They really helped make my trip there memorable. I got to meet comedian Jason Stuart at the party; a funny guy and one of the first (if not the first) successful openly gay comedians in the U.S.

After winning the first two Friendship Cups, the straights had lost to the gays the last two years; According to Witman, they were out for blood this year. And they drew first blood during the game Saturday night, knocking one of G-Force’s best players out of the game. But it was the gays who came out on top again, winning 7-3 after a flurry of scores in the third period. I can only imagine what the straights will do next year to win.

“Both teams played hard and played to win during this tough and emotional game,” said Witman. “The spectators were so involved and got into the drama of the match as it unfolded. It was the biggest crowd ever and included more diversity than previous years – with a much larger group of straight spectators.”

“It was a ton of fun to play in front of so many people especially with a more balanced representation in the stands,” said Dave Elkin, member of the Eurotrash team.

The pool party

I’ll admit, I did not get to go to the pool party, as I was on a plane headed home at the time. Every year after the hockey game, there is a pool party (read: excuse for guys to run around in their Speedos). From every account both before and after this year’s party, I heard it has been for years, and was this year, a huge success. “Exceeded every expectation,” Quinn texted me after the event.

Damn, why’d I leave a day early?!?
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