Altitude 2001 drawing a crowd 

WHAT: Altitude 2001

WHEN: Feb. 4-11

Whistler’s Gay & Lesbian Ski Week is headed for its biggest year ever, with a record 3,000-plus people signed up and tickets to some events already sold out.

The annual event is now in its ninth year and Altitude 2001 producer Brent Benaschak says it has grown well beyond his expectations.

"It started as a simple social group of 200 gay and lesbian skiers and it is now attracting people from all around the globe, largely by word of mouth," he says from Vancouver.

Last year’s event attracted more than 2,500 people.

So what causes people to jump on a plane or drive thousands of miles to Whistler when their local ski resorts are offering fresh powder for a lot less effort? Basically it’s the fun, according to Benaschak.

"It’s a crazy, hectic festival chock full of social events and over-the-top parties and people just have a great time – gay and straight."

The open hospitality of Whistlerites is also a huge drawing card, he adds.

"Whistler has always welcomed Altitude with open arms and I love working with the people up there. Plus the mountains are just so beautiful, with amazing skiing and boarding."

Altitude 2001 kicks off with a dance party in Vancouver on Saturday, Feb. 3 before the whole show arrives in a flurry of feather boas and fashionable ski attire in Whistler the following day. What will unfold over the next seven days is a non-stop itinerary of parties, lunches and apres get-togethers, all squeezed around the on-slope action.

However, some cat-fights could be store, given that some of the top attractions are already sold out. Tickets to the Beach Party and BBQ lunch are long gone and all passes are sold out, including all access, mid-week, extended weekend and apres ski.

Benaschak denies that Altitude has become too much of a good thing and has been busy re-assuring patrons there are still plenty of events up for grabs, including the infamous Snow Ball. He says Altitude has become a huge gathering but this mostly adds, rather than detracts, from its appeal.

"Some people like the intimacy of small groups skiing together and feel they get lost in the crowd," he admitted. "But the amazing energy created by so many people with a common interest and bond is quite exciting."

Benaschak believes the strong U.S dollar against the Canadian currency will bring more Americans across the border this year, which partly explains the jump in pre-event bookings.

"A big part of the Altitude crowd are from the United States and even more are coming this year. Plus word is increasingly getting out."

In the tradition of past Altitudes, several fund-raisers will be held for local charities and causes. This year’s beneficiaries will be Whistler Community Services Society, Vancouver’s gay hockey team and a "yet to be announced" recipient.

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