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Altitude organizer looking for community support

Bergeron says event could triple in size, bring 15,000 people to Whistler



Lee Bergeron readily admits that his company, Out on the Slopes Productions, has been struggling to pay off some of the debts left by the late founder of Whistler’s gay week.

And Bergeron has had a difficult time negotiating advertising and pricing for the events at this year’s Altitude, as several Whistler businesses are feeling the pinch. But in acknowledging his problems he’s hoping the community will share his vision for the future of the event.

"I should start with the problems that were left behind by the former owner and that has clouded it," Bergeron said this week.

The founder of Out on the Slopes Productions, Brent Benaschak, died Dec. 30, 2003, but Bergeron did not gain full control of the company until last October, which left him little time to promote this year’s Altitude gay ski week, which takes place Jan. 29-Feb. 7.

Benaschak was known for his flair and love of Whistler and the snow, but he was not renown for being financially prudent.

"So the more assistance I can get from all of the community means that this cloud wouldn’t be looming as large and it means I could be left to grow the event," said Bergeron.

"We are a part of what happens in this resort and I do not want special treatment. But this is a baby product and it needs to be nurtured because there is a lot of competition out there."

The competition Bergeron is referring to has come on with a vengeance in the past 12 months. During that time gay ski weeks have started in Telluride, Mammoth and Lake Louise and the Canadian dollar has increased in value against the U.S. greenback.

Another concern for Bergeron is that the cruise industry has always been extremely popular with the gay community and on the same week Altitude is happening what’s billed as the "world’s biggest gay cruise" is sailing from Florida.

Despite the growing competition, Bergeron is certain he could triple the number of people coming to Whistler for Altitude if the right people with the right amount of money support the event. Last year between 3,500 and 4,000 people attended. This year he expects 4,500.

"Altitude, above any other ski week in the world, has a brand and that is that it has always been known as the biggest and best," he said. "As far as the gay community is concerned Altitude put Whistler on the map, and this event could be 12,000-15,000 people in three years.

"If I could get past some of the hindrances and sit down with a group of people that fully wanted to support it and were willing to back up support with money, we could see 15,000 in the village within three years. And the money that would raise for the community would be outrageous, but it will take a collective effort."

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