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GayWhistler takes on ski week

Kim Kuzma community concert among new events planned

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GayWhister is putting the "gay" forefront and centre in its new ski week.

The company that runs the successful gay travel website GayWhistler.com has stepped in at the last minute to pick up where Altitude left off. Instead of the ambiguous moniker Altitude, the new event will be called GayWhistler Ski Week (GWSW).

"We were informed that Altitude was potentially going to cancel; a few hours before everyone else was. I pulled together my team to talk about it and we knew we couldn’t let gay ski fall apart," said company principal Sean Kearns.

To ensure gay and lesbian tourists have a full week of exciting après events Feb. 5 to Feb. 12. Kearns has been putting in 20-hour days.

"Our events show respect to (founder) Brent (Benashak’s) vision, which was skiing, camaraderie and having venues for making new friends. We’re getting back to what it used to be," said Kearns.

Although GayWhistler has looked to Benashak’s original approach for inspiration, this year’s theme is "FRESH". Some of the events Kearns hopes will inspire a feeling of newness include the Fresh Beginnings opening reception and dance, the Fresh Meet tea dance and the Fresh Sounds concert featuring jazz vocalist Kim Kuzma.

"Kim is breaking her schedule to fly here from overseas to do this show. This is our way of giving back to the community. Anyone who’s seen Kim knows she’s an amazing performer," said Kearns.

Kuzma and her band will be playing a two-hour show featuring selections from her critically acclaimed new disc Who You Are on Thursday, Feb 9 at the conference centre.

As well, there’s an outing to the new Tube Park planned and a Saturday night dance party at the conference centre that will run until 4 a.m.

And while acknowledging that the party elements are important to the week, Kearns is clear that ensuring that the books balance is essential to GWSW’s sustainability.

"Our goal is to be fiscally responsible, offer value to the participants and value back to the village," he said.

For example, GWSW is using local bars for the majority of its events that are held at times when the venues might otherwise be empty.

"A mid-week tea dance works. You can come off the hill, have a rowdy good time and be in bed by 9 to ski the next day," said Kearns. "And the bars get traffic between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Everyone wins."

The consumer will win with an event pass Kearns estimates will be under $300 for the week, half of what Altitude passes cost.

Organizers are still confirming the entertainment lineup, but a preliminary list of events is online at www.gaywhistler.com. Ticket sales will be available online by this weekend with all major credit cards and PayPal being accepted.

"The response from local businesses has been outstanding. We’ve had incredible offers of support, from volunteering to offering facilities at no cost," he said.

Tourism Whistler (TW) will be supporting the event through its marketing initiatives such as its targeted e-newsletters and website.

"We also will be selling tickets at the Tourism Whistler activity centre," said Michele Comeau Thompson, communications director for TW. "We’ll support the event producers in any way we can to ensure the legacy of gay ski week continues. We very much appreciate their ability to step in at the final hour and program such a fantastic week of events."

When Kearns and his company decided to develop a new event they had initially been planning for an attendance of between 500 and 800. However, he said that his contacts in the hotel industry are not reporting any cancellations. Instead, word of a new event in Whistler is spreading quickly through the gay community and inspiring new bookings.

"We’re expecting between 1,000 and 2,000 people."

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