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Gay Whistler Ski Week building momentum

A change in producers marks a change in overall feel of event



Walt Boyle was livid when he heard Altitude was cancelled.

The communications consultant, formerly based in Los Angeles, had just relocated to Whistler weeks before and was intending on hosting a group of American friends. He had convinced his friends to forego their annual ski vacations to long established events like Aspen Gay Ski Week in favour of trying something new.

"All of my friends, except one, had never been to Whistler before," said Boyle. He points out that the week is about more than just creating an event for gays, it is also about attracting new visitors.

"The people I had invited were coming from all corners of the U.S. When they heard the event had been cancelled they were a) disappointed; b) upset and c) confused."

Then Boyle met Sean Kearns.

Kearns, and his company, came in at the last minute to redevelop the annual gay ski week.

Out on the Slopes Productions, the company that originated and produced the annual event, claimed "unspecified last minute difficulties" for canceling Altitude.

"I can’t say enough about the team that came together to rescue the event," said Boyle. "They’ve put in a Herculean effort. They’ve saved what could have been a real PR disaster, not only for ski week, but for Whistler."

Boyle’s friends will be part of the close to 2,000 gays and lesbians expected to take part in the week of activities Feb. 5-12.

"We have heard from our 1-800-WHISTLER agents that there has been very little concern over the changes to the gay ski week programming," said Michele Comeau Thompson, communication director for Tourism Whistler. "Word on the street is that the program looks fantastic and that interest is strong."

Clearly impressed with the organization of GayWhistler Ski Week, TW will be building goodwill and positive press for future events targeted at the gay market by hosting gay journalists, including writers for the glossy U.S. publications Genre, Frontiers and Britain’s DIVA.

Comeau Thompson anticipates that the best January snowfalls since 1992 combined with the fresh energy GayWhistler is bringing to the event will make for a very successful week, albeit a week somewhat different from ones in recent memory.

People in search of the circuit party atmosphere that pervaded recent Altitude weeks are going to be disappointed. At GayWhistler Ski Week, the place for powder will be on the slopes.

"It’s not going to be an E or K fest," said Kearns. "And to really show we’re about skiing only one of our events goes past midnight."

With an emphasis on skiing, Kearns anticipates that while the demographic will probably be similar to previous years – gay men 25 to 45 years old – those coming just to party will be in the minority.

Spurred on by an enthusiastic community response, Kearns is already planning GayWhistler spring and summer events,

"If you enjoyed dancing at The Roundhouse in the winter, imagine dancing outside on top of the mountain in the summer."

He encourages everyone to participate by printing out a gay rainbow flag and placing it in windows of their homes and businesses to show their support.

"Another way people can get involved is to come out to the Kim Kuzma concert on Thursday the 9 th at the Telus Conference Centre," said Kearns.

Kuzma, like other famous divas such as Bette Midler, first made her name in the gay community.