Gay and lesbian ski week to go ahead as planned. 

San Diego businessman takes ownership of Out on the Slopes Productions

Altitude 12, Whistler's popular gay and lesbian ski week celebration, will go ahead despite the sudden death of its founder and organizer.

However some popular parts of the event have had to be cancelled due to the interruption in preparations following Brent Benaschak's death.

"We lost two solid weeks of preparation and we need to do what is going to keep this thing alive which is focusing on the big important things," said Lee Bergeron the new president and owner of Out on the Slopes Productions which organizes Altitude 12.

Cancelled this year will be the popular fashion show, originally scheduled to be held in Vancouver on Jan. 31, and the group wedding planned for the top of Whistler Mountain on Feb. 6.

Some locations for the apres events may also change, said Bergeron. But for the most part the weeklong celebration, which draws close to 4,000 people to the resort, will go ahead as planned.

"It is a wonderful event and I think it is something that needs to continue," said Bergeron, who owns a Web-enabled vitamin company out of San Diego.

"It has had such a huge international draw that it would be a shame for it to falter at this point."

So far, said Bergeron, ticket sales are brisk, with some of the events being close to sold out already.

Altitude is Whistler's second biggest winter event and Tourism Whistler estimates it pumps $1 million into the resort each year.

Indeed, Tourism Whistler was so concerned about the future of the event after Benaschak's death that they offered to help host the event.

"We were prepared to work with resort partners to step in and help with the event this year if a deal hadn't been struck with a new owner, said Barrett Fisher, president of Tourism Whistler.

"Altitude is an important event for Whistler and we were very pleased to hear the news about the new ownership and plans to move the event fully forward this year."

Paula Mohammed of Whistler Gay Weddings was disappointed that their group wedding had to be put off.

But, she said: "We didn't want to do it if it was not going to go smoothly.

"It is just too sensitive an event. Hopefully people will understand that we just felt that we couldn't pull it off as well as we wanted to this year."

Both Bergeron and Mohammed are planning to host the event at next year's gay and lesbian ski week.

Bergeron has attended the Altitude events in Whistler for the last five years and when he heard that Benaschak fell 20 stories to his death he was concerned the event might be in jeopardy.

He met with Benaschak's family and a deal was struck.

"We all decided this was the best thing to do," said Bergeron, who already owns a condo in Vancouver and plans to move there in the coming months.

Details are still being worked out but Bergeron said there would be fundraising at the Altitude 12 celebration for a foundation named in Benaschak's memory.

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