Dean Nelson of Alpenglow Productions didn't know what to expect going into WinterPride 2011, given last year's subdued affair with the Olympics and Paralympics in town, but if anything it was far bigger than anticipated.
"It was phenomenal, I'm absolutely thrilled with the attendance numbers and the production we were able to put on," he said on Monday. "The guest comments that we're getting back are extremely positive, and they're absolutely excited to come back again next year."
It will take a little while to tabulate all the numbers, but Nelson estimates that the event drew between 2,500 and 3,000 people to the resort.
"We exceeded our expectation on all the events goals and targets we established going into the season, we're just completely blown away. We knew we were off to a good start when the Monday après at Merlin's sold out one night, and by Tuesday our comedy shows and pool party were already sold out."
WinterPride, a gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgendered festival, ran from Jan. 30 to Feb. 6 with a full slate of events each day. Guests could ski on their own or join a group, or take tours with local operators. Every day there was an après ski event, followed by dinner, followed by the evening's entertainment - dancing, comedy shows, wine tasting, parties, and a pair of DJ raves on the final night at the GLC and Whistler Conference Centre. All told, the event brochure was 64 pages from cover to cover.
Nelson gave a lot of credit to the sponsors for believing in the event, giving Alpenglow the resources to put on better events. "We were able to do so much more and enhance the experience and production values, and reach out with more marketing," said Nelson.
The result was a huge draw internationally, with visitors from the U.K., Germany, Estonia, Norway, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Africa and the Middle East. "And of course our U.S. numbers were up and our Canadian numbers were stable, which is really good," Nelson added.
While the Olympics disrupted events last year, Nelson's work hosting a Pride House during the 2010 Games - the first one ever at the Olympics - did not go unnoticed.
"I talked to several people and they told me the reason they came is because they saw the coverage of the Olympics," said Nelson. "They may have been aware of WinterPride before that, but said it was so cool that we had a gay space in Whistler for the Olympics that they wanted to come here and see Whistler for themselves."
Nelson said the resort as a whole was very receptive this year. While there have been a few incidents in the past - such as people making homophobic comments in the village - there were no incidents this year. In fact, the village was more welcoming than ever.
"Just walking around the village you saw so many storefronts with rainbow flags, and we had merchants coming into the welcome centre saying they wanted to do something with us," said Nelson. "Come eat with us, come shop with us - and many had Pride paraphernalia in their stores to show their support, which is absolutely incredible."
Nelson said the goal is to grow the even bigger next year, which marks the 20th anniversary since Whistler has hosted a winter pride event. He said they're going to look at bigger venues for some events to accommodate the growing crowds, as well as branching out to other venues like the Olympic Plaza.
While that's still a year away, Nelson and Alpenglow are already busy with other projects. Nelson is heading to Manila where he's helping to stage the Mr. Gay World pageant, and he will be involved in Vancouver Pride as well.
For the summer, Alpenglow is staging the North American Outgames, which are coming to Whistler in July. That includes a two-day golf tournament, a novice EcoChallenge adventure race, a mountain bike race, an advanced EcoChallenge and the Mountain Marathon.
For more information on Alpenglow and WinterPride, visit www.gaywhistler.com.