Dean Nelson, the executive producer of the WinterPRIDE gay and lesbian ski week, is pretty calm for a guy who'll be playing host to over 3,000 people from around the world next week in one of the largest and longest-running winter gay pride events anywhere. But this is the seventh year that he's been running the show with his company, Alpenglow Productions, and despite the weak economy and growing competition the event is solid.
"Everything looks really strong, so we're really excited about that. There's a good vibe out there in the community right now and the advanced ticket sales to the events are right on par with last year — and a few events are a little head as well, which is encouraging," he said. "I've spoken to our hotel partners and the clubs we're working with this year, and they're all excited as well. The village should be busy next week."
But while the festival is strong this year, Nelson said Whistler's success has been noted by other ski resorts that are hosting pride events of their own — and investing in them as well. Nelson did apply to the Resort Municipality of Whistler to get a share of Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding for the festival, requesting between $30,000 and $100,000 to book an A-list performer. He was denied because the RMOW wants to concentrate funding on events that take place during Whistler's slow months — and February doesn't qualify.
Nelson said that decision, announced back in December, doesn't impact the festival but not knowing either way until less than two months out did make it harder to plan. He also hopes that the municipality will reconsider in the future, or WinterPRIDE could lose ground to competing events.
"Competition in the gay tourism market is becoming very, very fierce," he said. "A lot of new destinations are coming on board where the host organization actually has the support of the destination, and they're giving the event producers a ton of money to bring in talent they normally wouldn't be able to afford. Aspen (Gay Ski Week) have just brought in Drew Carey as their headline comedian, which is absolutely phenomenal.
"When you have destinations supporting the local producers in attracting that audience, they're going to build market share. Whistler needs to decide whether we want to be assertive with this market, or keep doing what we have in the past — which is fine too, although our share of the market will shrink."
WinterPRIDE is one of the events selected by the municipality for an economic impact study, and Nelson is confident that the numbers will make a good case for supporting the event.
There's a wide range of events and activities targeted to the gay and lesbian communities, including the return of the Mr. Gay Canada pageant on Feb. 7 and the Snowball all-night dance party on Feb. 9. All events are open to the public. For a rundown of celebrations see page 72.
While the Whistler event is more of a celebration than a political statement, a special edition of Whistler Debates will discuss whether pride events are still relevant, given the level of acceptance and the fact that a lot of political issues such as gay marriage have been addressed. It will be held at the museum Feb. 6 at 8 p.m., doors opening at 7:00 p.m.
Nelson said it should be an interesting talk. His own opinion is that pride events reflect the local conditions.
"Every pride movement around the world is in a different stage in its evolution, and in some cases pride is still very grassroots and struggling for basic human rights," he said. "Then you have places like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, large urban centres where the festival is more about celebration and entertainment."
That said, Nelson said that his festival hosts gays and lesbians from around the world, including a lot of places where the lifestyle isn't accepted For example, Nelson knows that Russians will book flights to places like Austria, and then fly from Austria to Canada for WinterPRIDE.
"That's the way things are going over there right now," he said.
The festival program is at www.gaywhistler.com.