The heat of Summer usually signals the beginning of Pride season, but the LGBTQ community is expanding the celebration beyond the restraints of June. LGBTQ advocacy group OUT Central Oregon took that sentiment to heart when starting its Winter-set Pride event, Winter PrideFest, in 2018.

Two years later, Winter PrideFest is set to draw its highest attendance to date to the comfy confines of Bend, Oregon and nearby Mt. Bachelor. The organization is expecting over 700 people to take in top-notch skiing, drag tubing, ice skating and numerous parties and social events from Jan. 30 through Feb. 2. There’s even a Super Bowl watch party for attendees that don’t want to miss out on the big game.

“We have seen attendance at Winter PrideFest increase exponentially … We have a city that’s welcoming by nature and this event brings in a group of people who love the outdoors on what has traditionally been a slow weekend,” OUT Central Oregon president Jamie Nesbitt told the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

While much of the physical activity will utilize Mt. Bachelor’s slopes, OUT Central Oregon’s specialization in advocacy will be on full display back in Bend. Thursday night features a LGBTQ People in Sports panel at Immersion Brewing followed by a “Welcoming Snocial” for attendees to break the ice.

The panel will include champion cyclist Molly Cameron, activist Wyn Wiley and strength coach Joey Jacinto discussing “how social practices have changed and benefited current LGBTQ athletes and how events like ‘Winter PrideFest’ help bring the sporting community together with allies.” Professional ultra-runner Stephanie Howe will host the discussion.

The topic speaks to why Winter PrideFest was created in the first place. The event gathers hundreds of participants in individual sports together to build a community that many LGBTQ youths that are interested in sports lost out on by not feeling comfortable or accepted in a team environment.

Nesbitt knows that experience all too well.

“Growing up, I was drawn to participate in sports and outdoor activities, but I didn’t feel comfortable joining team sports out of fear of being different because of my sexuality and not fitting in or being unwelcome. So I focused on sport and outdoor activities that were individual,” he told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. “It is not uncommon for many LGBTQ+ individuals to shy away from sport out of fear of being unwelcome, harassed or ridiculed because of their sexuality.”

Winter PrideFest was established in part to build that unique camaraderie only team sports provides, but it’s constructing teams that reach beyond sports and bring together the LGBTQ community and allies alike for something more powerful than an annual jubilant, snowy weekend.

“We welcome everyone – family, friends, allies – to join us and celebrate love and pride in our community and the beauty of Central Oregon,” said Nesbitt.

To find out more about Winter PrideFest and to register for the event, click here.