Whistler's WinterPride 

17th annual gay ski week expands to include Mr. Gay World competition, visitors from across the globe

The party starts this Sunday, when attendees of the annual WinterPride festival flood the cobblestone streets of Whistler in search of new friends and good times in the mountain town.

This is the 17th year for the festival, which runs from Sunday, Feb. 1 to Sunday, Feb. 8.
Dean Nelson started out volunteering for the event, and four years ago stepped in to help with media relations and production for the event after the organizing group collapsed and suddenly cancelled the event.

"Myself along with three other business partners, we said 'we can't let this die, we need to do something,'" he said.

They managed to organize a week's worth of events in just 12 days, and eventually decided to create their own company to facilitate the event on an annual basis. Just last year Nelson became CEO of Alpenglow Productions, bringing in Ken Coolen, the president of Vancouver Pride, as a partner.

"I think since I've been really actively involved in the operations and the marketing of the festival we've really gone away from focusing on the circuit elements, and making it a much more rounded festival," Nelson said, adding that they've introduced culinary, health and wellness, and other entertainment aspects to the week-long event.

Last summer he also organized and hosted the first Mr. Gay Canada competition in Whistler, and now they've managed to attract the 2009 Mr. Gay World event to town as part of the WinterPride offerings.

"What's really exciting about having Mr. Gay World coming to Whistler is we're getting into gay markets that we wouldn't normally have access to," he said, pointing to markets like South America, South Africa, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

Tapping into this new international market of pageant-followers also means more media attention from their home countries, which could create more long-term economic gains.

"We already had heard early warnings that in 2009 the economy could be a little bit dicey, we really didn't know what's happening with the U.S. elections, so there was lots of uncertainty," he said, "It was quite strategic of us to have Mr. Gay World this year because we really needed to figure out another way to attract another market to come here."

During times of economic hardship, companies tend to be stingy with their sponsorship dollars. But WinterPride doesn't seem to be feeling the pinch.

"The gay community in general is somewhat recession-resistant, meaning that we have a certain quality of life that we enjoy and we know how to manage it," he said, "We might not be able to go for the three spa treatments a week that we normally do, but we're still going to have at least one or two."

This year, some of the highlights of WinterPride include the Retro Bingo Party games night, Singles and Sexfood, Queerly Canadian Comedy Show, the United Colours of WinterPride Fashion show, the MountainTop party, and, of course, the Snowball rave. An impressive roster of entertainers will also be coming to town to take part in the events, including DJ Ana Paula of Rio De Janeiro, DJ Mat Ste-Marie of Montreal, the Vertigo Posse, DJ Betti Forde, DJ Wayne C of London and many more.

For a full, detailed line-up of all the events and activities in store for 2009 WinterPride, visit www.gaywhistler.com.

Mr. Gay World also adds a new element to Whistler's annual WinterPride celebrations.

"Everyone is pretty excited about it," Nelson said, "This type of event is pretty phenomenal. It just really gives us an opportunity to showcase why we love Whistler so much and why the community is just so special."

International producers came to visit during Mr. Gay Canada, and were impressed by the community's attitude and reception to the delegates and competition as a whole.

"Whistler really celebrates the value of being authentic, and being authentic means being who you really are - you don't have to hide in the closet, you don't have to edit yourself, you can just be who you want to be, regardless if you're gay or a 50-year-old ski bum, to a high-powered New York exec," Nelson said.

For some of the 24 international delegates coming to compete in Mr. Gay World, tolerance and acceptance isn't something they are used to finding in their own communities. Nelson points out that in many countries like Bulgaria and India it's very dangerous, or even illegal, to be gay.

"In some countries, its even punishable by death," he added.

Organizers are also encouraging members of the local community to come out to the events, as well.

"We're a very open and inclusive festival, and as long as you appreciate your own sexuality, it doesn't matter what it is, and that's really important to us."

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