Ski resorts adding gay/lesbian events |

Ski resorts adding gay/lesbian events

Chad Abraham

ASPEN – When a small group of gay skiers got together 28 years ago in Aspen, they hardly could have known what they were about to create.That informal gathering, the first of its kind in the nation, became an annual event, each one getting a little larger than the last, but still remaining rather relaxed. The most recent took place last week. What Aspen’s Gay and Lesbian Ski Week has spawned, however, is a powerful marketing tool that is being used by other ski areas.Gay and lesbian ski weeks are no longer quaint nor unique. They involve powerful corporations providing thousands of dollars in sponsorships, airfare and lodging deals, multimedia marketing efforts and a multitude of other logistical challenges.”It’s the difference between walking around the block and running 12 marathons,” said Lee Bergeron, president of Out On The Slopes.The Whistler, British Columbia-based company is producing the resort’s 13th annual gay ski week. The event, called Altitude 2005, will involve 40 parties and other productions over seven days. Bergeron said the resort’s gay ski week has grown every year and is now the largest in the world.Along with Whistler, Telluride is planning its second gay ski week after a successful event last year; Utah just had its week in Park City; there’s one at Mammoth Mountain, Calif.; and another in Summit County at three different ski areas. There’s even a Web site called that offers vacation packages in the French Alps.With so many choices now for gay skiers, fewer are coming to where it all began, said Jack Johnson, co-chairman of the Aspen Gay and Lesbian Community Fund. The local gay ski week benefits the nonprofit community fund.”Over the years, the success of other gay ski weeks following our model has caused a drop in numbers here,” Johnson said.Why are skiers going elsewhere? There are a variety of reasons, including societal and economical factors, along with ski terrain.”The Canadian people in and of themselves are so welcoming to gays. It’s much more of a liberal environment up here,” Bergeron said.Aspen’s event usually generates a few protest letters, but next month’s gay ski week in Telluride has sparked strong emotions.”We’re having a little bit of controversy down here about our gay ski week,” said Maryhelyn Kirwan, spokeswoman for the Telluride Ski Resort. “We have some local people who are quite opposed to it and quite vocal about it.”Bergeron also cited Whistler’s status as a world-class resort and the fact that “the American dollar is usually fairly strong here.” Kirwan said Telluride’s attraction is in its small and mellow atmosphere. “We have a smaller community, a more intimate setting,” she said. “We don’t have the capacity for huge groups.”Vail, Colorado

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