By David Branigan It started back in 1992. Back then it was only about 300 B.C. skiers who happened to be gay. This Sunday the fourth annual Gay Ski Week will bring in over 2,000 participants from around the world, making Whistler's Gay Ski Week, along with Aspen's 16-year-old tradition, one of the biggest events of its kind. The itinerary is jam packed from the moment the skiers arrive in Vancouver on Saturday for an Avalanche Party at the Wall Centre, to the grand finale Snow Ball IV at the Whistler Conference Centre on Saturday the 10th. Of the 2,000 coming, about 1,600 are international travellers. Many are in the 20-45, well educated, higher income bracket. The remaining 400 or so are drawn from Vancouver, Seattle and Victoria markets, with most making the more cost effective weekend visit. Pique spoke to Brent Benischek of Out On The Slope Productions, the promoter of the event, about Gay Ski Week in Whistler, the reaction from the community, and uninformed stereotypes. P: You've been at this for four years now, how do you find the reaction in the local community to the idea of 2,000 gay men and women crashing town for a week? BB: Well I think Whistler tends to be very international by nature, with a very worldly population. So for the most part the reaction has been very positive. There are people who are initially a little apprehensive, but part of the reason we do these events is to educate people and raise awareness about the gay community. P: How do you deal with the redneck mentality that views homosexuals as sex crazed deviants? Do you get much of that here? BB: That uninformed mentality does still exist, unfortunately, so that you may come in contact with it on occasion wherever you live, but I rarely have to think about it. I think about it maybe twice a year. P: I work in bars and occasionally hear disparaging jokes about the Pool Party at Meadow Park from homophobic locals. But I guess that comes with the territory when your sexual preference runs counter to societal conditioning. BB: Events like Altitude ’96 help raise awareness that the gay community is not full of sex-crazed adolescents but people just like anyone else. The pool is a public place and most of our participants are professional people who wouldn't do anything untoward, probably more so because of public perception. The reality is that after local staff have worked with us many have said they've never had so much fun because there is a lack of attitude, the group tends to tip well and there is a lack of pretension which makes for fun, laid back events. This year we are hoping to raise $7,000 at the Comedy Night and charity auction at the Chateau Whistler, on Wednesday night. This event, which features Mark Davis, will donate the proceeds to Whistler Community Services. As well, on Monday night we are premiering the movie "It's My Party" at the Rainbow Theatre and proceeds from that go to the Garibaldi Health Unit's Safe Sex Centre — The S.A.F.E. And there is a ski-a-thon Saturday on Blackcomb that raises money for the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation and BC Persons with Aids. So we are here to raise money, awareness and to have a good time in North America's #1 ski resort, and we wouldn't be such a success if the community didn't fully support us. The itinerary runs from 7 a.m. to late in the evening for the duration with apres ski parties at the GLC, Monk's, Bill's, La Fiesta and Caramba! Merlin’s will be hosting nightly, with the exception of the Beach Party at Meadow Park on Thursday night, the Snow Ball at the conference centre Saturday and my favourite, the Lesbians & Friends Dance Party at the Chateau Friday Night. All these events are open to the public, with the Snow Ball being the entertainment highlight with DJ Billy Carrol flying in from New York City, where he spins the Roxy and the Limelight as well as London's Ministry of Sound. Along with Carrol is a light jockey from New York and the same company that did GM Place and the Ford Centre will be providing the light and sound technology to turn the conference centre into a giant urban disco for one night.