As scores of Olympic revellers wake up in Whistler on March 1, the day after the closing ceremonies, they may see Olympic banners being replaced by the rainbow banners of WinterPRIDE. As Whistler’s global sports party ends, the resort’s gay party begins.
“We’re the first-ever festival to start the day after the Olympics—how awesome is that?” asks Dean Nelson, who organizes the gay ski/snowboard event through his company GayWhistler.com.
“We’re the big ”˜after-party’ of the Olympics,” Nelson says. “We’ll be bathing in the afterglow of that incredible energy and animation. The chance for people to come experience anything like this again is highly unlikely.”
WinterPRIDE—which takes place from March 1 to 8—is happening later than usual this year, due to the Olympics taking over Whistler for the month of February. Even though the event is well supported and well received by Whistler locals, tourism agencies, and the resort itself, there was little choice but to sandwich the 2010 edition into the available time slot between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Call it gay karma, but the timing actually helps gay travellers save some bucks at a resort long perceived as a playground for the rich. Packages during the weeklong event start at $113 per person, per night for three nights’ accommodation and a two-day lift pass.
“It will be great value this year,” Nelson explains. “The hotels are practically giving away rooms, as it’s a transition period between the Olympics and Paralympics. We will practically have the whole resort to ourselves. We have an incredible amount of snow—994 centimetres at this point [in late January]. This is the year to come.”
Timing forced Nelson and his team to get creative in their use of the available facilities. Their biggest challenge was the loss of the Whistler Convention Centre, which is tied up through the Paralympics by Vanoc, and was previously home to the big Saturday-night Snowball dance party. They’re moving it to the lodge at the top of Whistler Mountain, giving partygoers plenty of time to enjoy rare nighttime views of village lights as they ride the gondola. There are rumours that perhaps people will take advantage of this time to, well, join a unique mile-high club.
When considering changes to the aprí¨s-ski schedule, Nelson decided to restore a lost tradition. “We haven’t had the pool party in a number of years, and are excited to bring that back. It’s half-naked guys and cocktails—fabulous!” WinterPRIDE will take over the Meadow Park Sports Centre, which features a pool, saunas, and steam rooms, and there’ll be models showing off the “latest and hottest swimwear” and a DJ spinning poolside tunes.
While the parties get a lot of attention, skiing and boarding are the focus for most participants. WinterPRIDE lets gays spend each day with skiers/riders of similar skill levels while being guided around both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains by gay guides. As well, there’s a reserved section in one of the mid-mountain lodges for lunchtime socializing.
GayWhistler’s legacy is being cemented through Nelson’s tireless promotion of the first-ever Olympic Gay PRIDE House, an LGBT-friendly Olympic space located in the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre hotel. While most “houses” will close once the Olympics are over, PRIDE House will remain open through WinterPRIDE (offering daytime cooking lessons and nighttime lesbian socializing) and the Paralympic Games. (Vancouver also has a PRIDE House, located in Qmunity [1170 Bute Street] until March 21.)
“We hope to show people that we welcome and celebrate all diversity,” Nelson says. “The Paralympics may be more exciting than the Olympics, as the athletes have overcome many obstacles just to be there.”
ACCESS: For information on WinterPRIDE, see www.gaywhistler.com/ or call 1-866-787-1966. A variety of tickets are available, ranging from $10 for an “art of flirtation” class to $310 for a men’s full-week pass.