February 02, 2001 Features & Images » Feature Story

Beyond all politics and just for fun 

Page 5 of 6

Jones believes events such as Thunderthrob and Altitude help remove social barriers and show that everyone, gay or straight, can have a fun time together. She says local girls also enjoy checking out all the buff gorgeous men in town for the week.

"The air in Whistler changes around Gay Ski Week and becomes very giggly, almost like Christmas," she says. "Same-sex couples feel free to hold hands in public, which in Whistler they normally would never feel comfortable doing."

If the often quoted "10 per cent rule" is correct, Whistler should have a population of more than 900 gay residents within its ranks. If that’s the case, as a social minority they seem to keep to themselves. For instance, don’t hold your breath looking for any gay events in the weekly entertainment listings. Jones says there are many long-established lesbian couples in town but it doesn’t appear as easy for gay men in Whistler.

"There is a strong bisexual community in Whistler among local women and everyone is pretty accepting of that. You don’t see the same level of acceptance of gay guys and maybe that is a reflection of the predominant straight male youth culture here."

So how does Whistler measure up to its rival, Aspen, when it comes to gay ski week? According to Benaschak, it’s comparing apples with oranges.

"The difference between the two ski weeks is the same as the difference between Aspen and Whistler – Aspen is definitely more about Hollywood."

However, he doesn’t quite agree with the common phrase, "People go to Aspen to be seen, they go to Whistler to hide."

"Altitude guys definitely don’t come here to hide," he laughs. "They’re a little too extroverted for that."

Given that Altitude has taken on a life of its own, driven largely by word of mouth, one could expect Benaschak and his team to take time out to sit on their respective laurels. Not a chance.

Benaschak says there are still issues to iron out, including Whistler’s often lamented rules on 2 a.m. bar and club closures. He says he is trying to get an extended opening especially for the Snow Ball to meet client expectations.

"Our guests come from all over the world and are used to having the freedom to stay out late instead of being told when to go to bed."

Hirtle agrees. He says the successful hosting of big groups such as Altitude indicates Whistler can handle even bigger events such as the Olympics. But he also says the draconian rules relating to bar and club hours need to change.

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