By Andrew Mitchell
Whistler’s annual gay ski week may be turning 15 this year, but for organizer Sean Kearns of GayWhistler it’s a whole new start.
This year the event, which runs Feb. 4 to 11, has been relaunched as WinterPride. While it will feature the usual signature parties and events, this year organizers are also offering a wide range of optional activities and workshops ranging from culinary and mixology classes to medical education programs geared to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community.
As Kearns explains, the goal is to offer the community something a little different this year.
“There’s a totally new element to this event, which is where the name WinterPride comes in,” he said. “Last year was more of a traditional gay ski week, while this year we’ve put together more of a celebration of diversity and winter pride festival.
“We have all the traditional gay ski week events, but also some new elements like the culinary track, the health and wellness track, and the medical education track, which we’re testing out this year. We have options for avid skiers and for the person that doesn’t ski at all but wants to celebrate diversity in the most beautiful outdoor setting in the world.”
Kearns initially set 2,500 participants as his expected maximum, but based on early registration and the amount of media coverage that WinterPride has received around the world recently, he says that number is quickly becoming the minimum. Organizers at GayWhistler have already had to add additional dogsled tours, and bookings are strong for the health and wellness workshops, culinary workshops and mixology.
While the mountains are the main attractions (and Whistler is having a better year for snow than most resorts in the northern hemisphere), Kearns says Whistler’s reputation as a first-class tourism destination is also helping draw visitors.
“The mountains are amazing, certainly, but more important and beyond the mountains is the natural beauty of the people there,” he said. “People come from all over the world to work here, from South America to Ireland to Australia… and they realize that it doesn’t matter who you sleep with, as long as you’re in the mindset of enjoying the great outdoors and respecting people for who they are.”
This is only the second year that GayWhistler has produced this event, jumping in last year to rescue the event after the former organizers backed away because of financial issues and the death of Brent Benashak, the event’s founder, in December of 2003. Out On The Slopes Productions took it over for 2004 and 2005, but struggled to cover the organization’s debts. While there was no question Benashak was a gifted event promoter, he was less astute when it came to managing the financial side of the festival.