Revered founder of gay ski week dies suddenly 

Benaschak’s death puts Altitude 12 event in jeopardy

The founder and organizer of North America’s biggest gay and lesbian ski week, held annually in Whistler, has died suddenly.

Brent Benaschak passed away Dec 30 at the age of 41. The family has requested that details of his death not be released.

His death has called into question whether this year’s Altitude 12 event will go ahead.

"We are still trying to figure that out too," said long time friend Rodney Plante.

"For now it is business as usual until we are directed otherwise."

The final decision rests with Benaschak’s family, which is based in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Family members are meeting with lawyers this week to try and figure out the future of Benaschak’s Out On The Slopes Productions company and the event.

Gareth Kirkby, managing editor of Vancouver gay and lesbian newspaper Xtra West, featured Benaschak as a community hero a couple of years ago.

"(Altitude) is an institution now in the gay community," said Kirkby.

"And I think it would be really tragic if it didn’t continue and I would imagine that both his parents and friends and people who have worked in the business will do everything they can to continue it.

"There is a very strong sense in the community that it must continue."

Kirkby said Benaschak’s work put Vancouver and Whistler on the map as a destination for the gay traveller. He was also part of the movement behind getting bars to stay open until 4 a.m. as part of the push to attract gay travel business, a multi billion-dollar industry in North America.

"He took opportunities to educate wherever he saw them," said Kirkby.

"He will be missed. Whenever he saw something that needed doing he always went out and did it."

It is estimated that the Altitude event, traditionally held Ja. 31 to Feb. 9, brings in over $1 million to the resort.

Lynda Gilroy, Director of Meetings and Incentive Experience for Tourism Whistler said it’s her understanding that Altitude 12 will be going ahead.

"We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Brent Benaschak," she said.

"Brent worked tirelessly to develop Whistler’s Gay Ski Week into one of the largest and most successful annual festivals in Whistler’s calendar year.

"We hope that (Benaschak’s) legacy will continue for many years to come."

Every year Benaschak made sure that part of the profits from the event went back into the Whistler community. For years a silent auction has been held in support of Whistler Community Services Society.

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