By Nicole Fitzgerald
When: Feb. 4 to 11
Whistler celebrates the 15th anniversary of hosting a winter gay festival this year — the second longest continually running gay winter festival in North America.
The festival was most famously known as Gay Ski Week in years past, but this year festival heads Sean Kearns and Dean Nelson , who took up the rainbow flag festival last year, have decided to give the celebration a new name, one more reflective of what is at the heart of the festival — Pride, WinterPride.
“One of the messages that we want to get out to Pemberton, Squamish and Whistler is that this festival is about diversity,” Kearns said. “It’s about celebrating who you are: single females, heterosexuals and married couples with kids, gay people. It’s about celebrating diversity, inclusiveness. People here in Whistler take it for granted how inclusive and accepting this place is. Western Canada has grown up with so many cultures, including the gay culture, so it is a non-issue for us. That is why it is such a big deal to hammer down pride. Outside of the safe (Whistler) bubble, it’s a big deal where being gay is a disease.”
With Whistler’s multi-cultural melting pot of good will and chill vibes comes a great payoff, not only socially, but financially as well. The American gay and lesbian community represents a US $55 billion travel industry and with Americans choosing Canada as their number one destination this year, Whistler stands to benefit. Whistler was also recently rated as the fifth most popular place in Canada for gay people to travel to. A tourism study reported 76 per cent of gays and lesbians surveyed were more likely to choose a gay-friendly travel destination.
“Why spend pink dollars in a place that goes against you?” Kearns asked, referring to anti-gay legislation passed in Colorado several years ago. “Why not spend it in Whistler… which is a leader about supporting gay rights and setting an example for the rest of the world in acceptance and diversity?”
Celebrating diversity and acceptance can range from something as big as hosting a WinterPride event to something as seemingly small as hanging a rainbow flag in your window.
“We encourage everyone in Whistler to animate themselves,” Kearns said. “Put welcome signs in the window. We are one of the highest spending private festivals that come to Whistler. (Gay people) spend more money on art, food, wine and hotels than any other demographic that comes up. We as a culture respond to businesses that reach out to us. Have fun with it.”
Along with a new name, organizers also wish to distinguish the inaugural WinterPride with new events. The festival schedule boasts new activities such as culinary classes and local art shows as well as health and wellness education workshops and a grand banquet, in addition to festival favourites such as comedy night, the Snowball dance party, après socials and on-mountain activities.
The Whistler community is welcomed to every event, especially the new WinterPride Banquet and comedy night.
The Banquet unites everyone and everything under one roof with dining, cocktails, fundraising silent auction and live entertainment, including performances from cast members of the Cirque du Soleil Mystère troupe.
“The top performance of Mystère is being flown in from Vegas, along with Stilettos and Strap Ons Burlesque Show, Ms. Willy and DJ Luke Johnston,” Nelson said. “The auction raises money for a great cause, an amazing dinner will be headed by Hilton chefs and it will be a night of dancing. Where can you do that all in Whistler for $65?”
The beneficiary of the evening will be Camp Moomba, a specialized summer camp program for kids age 6 to17 who are impacted by HIV/AIDS. Advance tickets are $65 or $75 at the door.
The Comedy Show is always a favourite with world-class comedians taking pokes at hetrosexuals and homosexuals alike Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. at the Telus Conference Centre. This year Chann Carr brings more than 20 years of gay stand up experience to the stage. Laugh the night away with this Atlantis cruise favourite. Advance tickets $40 or $50 at the door.
Plenty is cooking at WinterPride with food events added to the festival roster.
Culinary escapades include the Singles and Sex Foods events for men and women hosted throughout the week at the Four Seasons Residences. Champagne aficionados will mingle amongst like-minded food lovers sampling oysters, chocolate and avocadoes. No names or occupations can be exchanged, only how you identify yourself as a piece of food. Toast glasses of wine afterwards on the dance floor. Men Sex Foods is Monday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. and Women Sex Foods is Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m.
Sergeant Scott’s Kitchen Fitness also gets dining enthusiasts in shape for the weekend by getting them excited about tossing dough and squeezing cantaloupes Thursday, Feb. 8 at 10 a.m. at the Four Seasons Resort. Get into Caribbean beats with new partners to have the most fun you’ve ever had exercising.
Get cooking with the interactive Italian-Mediterranean Cooking class with a celebrity chef Friday, Feb. 9 at the Four Seasons Resort. Oyster mushroom risotto, gazpacho soup and Italian flat bread are a few recipes to look forward to.
Also new this year, WinterPride wants to promote both healthy bodies and healthy minds.
The festival highlight is a workshop led by Michael J. Losier, author of Canadian best seller Law of Attraction: The Science of Attracting More of What You Want and Less of What You Don’t on Friday, Feb. 9 at 2 p.m. in Whistler Village. Learn how to get your life to match the vibes you are sending out.
Get into the Ultimate Body experience Wednesday, Feb. 7 at noon at the Telus Conference Centre. The two-part event looks at revolutionizing the world of love-making and anti-aging secrets with Dr. Brian Martin and André Noel Potvin.
Finding Your Passion delves into what brings joy and fulfillment into your life Thursday, Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. at the Telus Conference Centre.
Other WinterPride highlights include the return of the Mountain Top T Dance Friday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Roundhouse Lodge. San Francisco’s DJ Luke Johnstone and DJ Wayne G will get crowds high at 7,000 feet.
“A T dance is an early evening dance,” Kearns explained. “In London, they have high tea and at the same time boys get together on the pier in downtown London… The queens must have T.”
There are lady-specific parties for WinterPride’s pussycats, including the second annual L Party Saturday, Feb. 10 at Maxx Fish and the Women’s Purrrfect Pampered Pussy Party Monday, Feb. 5 at 8 p.m. at Solarice Spa and Wellness Centre.
It’s fire and ice for this year’s Snowball with the addition of the Fireball lounge Saturday, Feb. 10 at the Telus Conference Centre. The Bears host the grand foyer party with DJ Matt Consola. DJ Jamie J. Sanchez headlines the Snowball insanity that carries on from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Local artists are also working their way into the festivities by hosting mini artisan markets at the various après parties around town. The lineup also includes an ArtWalk as well as a Celebration 2010 art showcase in the grand foyer at the Telus Conference Centre.
Organizers expect more than 2,500 festival attendees. Kearns said there were no incidents at last year’s festival.
“Our community respects this community,” he said. “For many, this is their home away from home.”
For more information, visit gaywhistler.com.