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Gay weddings and Altitude enjoy success in Whistler



There is no doubt in Paula Mohammed's mind that Whistler is going to see more and more same sex couples planning their weddings here in the months and years to come.

The whole idea received huge media attention last week during the annual gay ski and snowboard event, Altitude.

CNN broadcast a wedding, as did CBC. And numerous radio stations and newspapers from all over the world were captivated by the romance of a mountain same-sex union.

"People definitely took the flyers and there was a lot of interest," said Mohammed, co-owner of Whistler Gay Weddings.

"I think it has definitely created a lot of interest and I think we will see more couples coming up in the months ahead, and next year for Altitude, with plans to get married at that time."

One Altitude couple have already booked to come back Feb. 21 for their wedding.

"Their families insisted on being a part of it so we met with them here and then they are going to come back," said Mohammed.

There were at least six same-sex marriages in Whistler during the week.

Many of those attending Altitude were thrilled at B.C.'s decision to legalize same-sex marriages last July.

Those from America hope Canada's stance on the issue, and the recent decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court to allow same sex couples to wed, will pave the way for the rest of the U.S.

That seems unlikely however. In the meantime B.C. is more than happy to boost tourism with romance in mind.

Mohammed said all the couples she married were very emotional at the ceremony, treasuring the moment, especially those who came from places where same sex marriage is still illegal.

"All three ceremonies were really emotional and really neat with a really neat energy and vibe, so I think people were very excited and I think definitely a seed has been planted," she said.

"I noticed with the joint ceremony in which the guys got married that they were just in awe as it was happening saying, 'My God we can actually do this.'

"During the ceremony it was really interesting because you automatically kiss your partner and the girls didn't hesitate.

"But both sets of guys said, 'Oh we can do that? No one is going to throw anything at us?'

"So it was neat."

Mohammed hopes to help Altitude offer a huge group wedding next year at the event.

There were plans to hold one this year but the sudden death of Altitude founder and organizer Brent Benaschak threw the plans into a tailspin.

Rodney Plante, a consultant to Altitude and close personal friend of Benaschak, said the founder would have been pleased with this year's event.

"I think Brent would have felt great about this year's event," said Plante adding that Benaschak's family came out for the event from Saskatchewan.

"For many of us it was bittersweet but we couldn't imagine being anywhere else but here."

The annual charity night and auction, which raised close to $19,000 this year, will be named in Benaschak's honour.

The money will go to the Western Canada Pediatric Aids Society.

Plante said between 3,500 and 4,000 people came this year, with some of the most popular events being the mountain top tea dance, the Snow Ball and the apres events at the Telus Conference Centre.

"People were very excited about the whole event," said Plante.

"And again people left Whistler, they left Vancouver and British Columbia recognizing that it's a wonderful place to live, and it is a wonderful place to visit.

"People feel welcomed here, they feel comfortable, they feel safe and that is invaluable in terms of any type of investment or advertising that a company wants to do."

Out on the Slopes Productions, which operates Altitude, remains in probate following Benaschak's death. But Lee Bergeron, who was hired by the family to keep the show on the road this year, hopes to keep it going for years to come according to Plante

"There are certainly a committed group of people who are wanting to see it move forward and are excited at the opportunities that we can have," said Plante.

"We are certainly looking forward to building stronger relationships with some of the key people in Whistler for the coming years."