Pride Week, Whistler's annual gay ski week, is at a crossroads.
On one hand, for the first time in its 20-year history in Whistler, gay ski week is getting some official recognition with council proclaiming February 5-12 as Pride Week in the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW).
But on the other hand, doing business in Whistler has its challenges, not the least of which are the B.C. liquor laws, frustrating event organizers across the board. Those laws are some of the biggest hurdles for Dean Nelson, CEO and executive producer at Alpenglow Productions, which puts on the annual ski week in Whistler, and are forcing him to seriously think about the future of the Pride event.
"The whole liquor licensing for Whistler and for B.C. in general has caused us to really look at our business model and determine after these 20 years: are we going to continue to do WinterPride in Whistler? Because it is just so difficult," said Nelson.
"We would love to do more fabulous events but it's really hard to do events in Whistler."
He's trying to stay positive in the weeks leading up to Pride Week, but his frustration is evident. He joins a chorus of other event organizers and resort partners equally concerned about the liquor laws in B.C.
It's one of the reasons why the municipality has formed a Special Occasion License (SOL) Working Group. In the wake of problems with the Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler festival and the GranFondo bike race event, the SOL working group was formed in response to complaints.
Last month another event producer also complained of the laws after hosting a private function at Whistler Olympic Plaza.
As part of the rationale for forming the SOL group, municipal spokesperson Michel Comeau wrote in an email to Pique:
"Provincial Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) policies can result in inconveniences, uncertainties and delays in obtaining SOL licensing for an event, and this can negatively impact the ability of the resort community to attract visitors and meet their food and beverage expectations."
The group is tasked with providing a report, which will inform council's discussions with the provincial government.
While he did not go into any details, Nelson said the liquor laws add another layer of difficulty to the already large task of putting on a weeklong festival, forcing the question: is it all worthwhile?
"It's just that extra level of complexity that makes it more impossible for us, and we spend tons of money marketing the resort and it comes down to: is it worth us continuing to do what we do? It's just really frustrating."
Last year roughly 2,500 people took part in the weeklong events, which include the iconic Snowball Dance Til Dawn as well as a host of other activities and parties from dog sledding to wine tasting. Nelson estimates the economic spin off in the resort is in the range of $4.3 million. Ticket sales at this point are trending on par with last year, which was one of Pride's best ever.
The U.K, market is starting to rebound said Nelson and he's seeing take up from Belgium, Switzerland and Austria. And Australia seems to be quite strong again this year.
"We're just continuing with our snow message that we have amazing snow here in Whistler and people should choose their winter vacation here," he added.
Pride Week has become an annual affair in the resort, a cornerstone midway through the winter season.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, at the last council meeting of 2011, said she had met with the Pride Week organizers and was happy to support making the week officially recognized at the municipality, particularly in light of the fact that she was told some participants are persecuted in their home towns for their sexuality.
The proclamation, she said, shows:
"When they come to Whistler not only are they welcomed here, but for the municipality to go the next step to make a proclamation... is very meaningful for the participants," said the mayor. "So I am proud to support this proclamation."
It states that the RMOW has been "a pioneer in celebrating Pride publicly" and has also benefited from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Two-Spirited, Queer community.
"We're really happy," said Nelson, of the official recognition.
"It shows to our attendees... that the municipality is actually acknowledging our community and values our contribution to the resort, which is really fantastic and exciting."
The festival is now in its 20th year. Nelson loves Whistler and doesn't want to move it.
"But, it's getting to the point where we need to determine if we're sustainable or not," he said. "It's one of the things we're going to be questioning over the next six months.... determine what we're going to do in the future.
"Whistler can only do as much as what the B.C. liquor laws allow them to do, but we are a municipality, a resort municipality, with special rights and privileges, and we should be exercising some of those extra special rights and privileges as a resort because for us to continue to compete on a global level, we're losing our competitive edge."
For more information about the weeklong event, and to get tickets go to www.gaywhistler.com.