Final Gay Ski Week in Whistler? 

Organizer of WinterPride considers moving annual festival, cites lack of support

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOERN ROHDE / JOERNROHDE.COM - FLAG FLYING? Whistler WinterPRIDE organizer Dean Nelson (right)  may take his flag elsewhere next year, citing the lack of funding support through the municipality’s festival program.
  • Photo by joern Rohde / joernrohde.com
  • FLAG FLYING? Whistler WinterPRIDE organizer Dean Nelson (right) may take his flag elsewhere next year, citing the lack of funding support through the municipality‚Äôs festival program.

The main driver of WinterPRIDE gay ski week in Whistler is looking into relocating the festival next year.

Dean Nelson, the CEO and executive producer of the festival through his company Alpenglow Productions, said the decision by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) not to grant any funding to support the festival in its 21st year lies at the root of the discussions around moving the festival. During a festival wrap-up interview Nelson wondered out loud if the festival will come back to Whistler in 2014.

"When you look at all the other festivals receiving some funding, it would have been nice to have received a little bit of something," said Nelson.

"We're looking at other destinations. We've been approached by a few that love what we're doing and we may look at moving the festival or scaling it back because we just can't continue to grow it with the resources we have available to us."

The event producer pointed out that Crankworx and the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) received RMOW Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) funding despite the fact that those festivals have major corporate sponsors while WinterPRIDE week doesn't have the backing of any large corporations.

The WSSF learned last year that Telus would not return as the title sponsor of the festival in 2014 and the festival was granted $135,000 to enhance the free village concert series.

The RMOW has allocated $2.8 million in FE&A, with less than $1 million given to nine different festivals. The amounts range from $30,000 for the Readers and Writers Festival to $250,000 for Ironman Canada.

Nelson was looking for $30,000 to $100,000 in FE&A funding.

"If we don't have a solid baseline to stabilize the festival why should we continue to put our personal selves at risk producing this if Whistler isn't interested in supporting us?" Nelson asked.

He said he just wants the festival he organizes to be treated fairly.

"Right now we're competing against Vail," said Nelson, pointing out that comedian Drew Carey is headlining the gay ski week festival in the American resort. "There's no way we can do that. The only funding we get is through our corporate sponsorship, which is mostly all in-kind and through ticket sales. The reality is you cannot put on a festival based just on ticket sales because there's too many variables we don't have control over."

While Nelson is open to moving the festival out of Whistler he said the 65 festival events went very well this year. He noted that a number of fundraising events took place, resulting in a $500 donation going to the Whistler Health Care Foundation. Nelson estimated the economic impact the festival has on Whistler each year rings in at $4.5 million.

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