Queer the slopes

Winter resorts welcome gay skiers all season long, but many plan specific gay ski weeks that appeal to every taste

SNOW BEAR?  |  Elevation, the gay ski week in Mammoth, Calif., celebrates its 10th annual event — which, if anything like last year’s (above), will be cold and hot.

SNOW BEAR? | Elevation, the gay ski week in Mammoth, Calif., celebrates its 10th annual event — which, if anything like last year’s (above), will be cold and hot.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Life+Style Editor

jones@dallasvoice.com

There are some notable anniversaries among the gay ski weeks this season — Aspen turns 35, and Mammoth celebrates a decade — but queer skiers have plenty of choices, starting right after New Year’s and extending into April. The Shoot the Butte extravaganza from last year won’t be back (too bad! Read about Crested Butte in Dallas Voice soon), but from Canada to Colorado, Utah to Vermont and over to California, skiing to snowboarding, choose your favorite.

• Utah Gay & Lesbian Ski Week, Park City, Utah. Jan. 4–8. The season kicks off, as always, in the home of the Sundance Film Festival. Gayskiing.org.

• Aspen Gay & Lesbian Ski Week, Aspen, Colo. Jan. 15–22. The forerunner of gay ski weeks brands itself “Through the Years” this year, with the retro look of ’70s porn in its marketing materials (the ski week began in the 1970s; this is its 35th annual event). It truly is a weeklong event, starting with an opening party, continuing with the Downhill Costume Contest and wrapping up with a pool party, with parties like Demented Divas, Boutique Night and Late Night at Hunter Bar thrown in. GaySkiWeek.com.

• Winter Rendezvous XXVIII, Stowe, Vt. Jan. 18–23. Competing directly with Aspen — albeit on the opposite side of the country — is Winter Rendezvous in Stowe, Vt. The 28th outing includes performances by DJ Harrison, the team of Amy and Freddy and drag diva Varla Jean Merman. Winterrendezvous.com.

• WinterPride, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. Feb. 5–12. Whistler’s big annual ski week bounced back to a week later than last year for its 20th party where Queernadians are joined by their neighbors to the south (that’s us). Comedian Jason Stuart hosts a comedy night, DJ Ted Eiel will be there for the Furrocious party, for bear lovers and Manny Lehman spins the closing night Snowball Dance. GayWhistler.com.

• Telluride Gay Ski Week, Telluride, Colo. Feb. 25–March 3. Named the U.S.A.’s top gay ski week by Gay.com, the Mountain Village event is back with T-12. Events include the Wig Run, the Telluride AIDS Benefit fashion show (and several preview parties). American Airlines, the official airline for Telluride Gay Ski Week, offers directs from DFW to Montrose, plus a discount code (9121BB) when booking at AA.com/rainbow. TellurideGaySkiWeek.com.

• Elevation Mammoth X: Gay Ski Week, Mammoth Lakes, Calif. March 14–18. For the milestone 10th party, Elevation welcomes a string of DJs, including Brynn Taylor, Beau Dasher, Drew G, Josh Peace and DJ Pornstar at some of the nine scheduled parties. The big closing party Avalanche features headliner Roland Belmares. MammothGaySki.com.

• OutBoard Gay and Lesbian Snowboard Week, Steamboat Springs, Colo. March 27–April 1. OutBoard is unique among gay skiing events: It changes out its location every year or so. Not a bad idea — it caters to snowboarders, who are always looking for new challenges. Events planned for the 17th annual winter wonderland include an opening night cocktail party and western-style hoedown. Yee-haw! OutBoard.org.

• Vail Gay Ski Week, Vail, Colo. Dates not yet announced. Vail is excitedly touting its next ski week in 2012, but as of press time, the dates hadn’t been released (last year it was March 30–April 3, though the previous year, it was in late January). Keep an eye on VailGaySkiWeek.com for updates (and we’ll follow up on the website as soon as we learn anything concrete).

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

If he could turn back time…

… Dallas drag legend Wayne Smith wouldn’t change a thing. After all the stops and starts, he leaves leaves town reflecting on a career of laughter, music … and a nip slip

STEVEN LINDSEY  |  stevencraiglindsey@me.com

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DO YOU BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER WAYNE? | You’ll have to — next week the Cher impersonator and his handsome husbear head to life in the Midwest. (Gregory Hayes/Dallas Voice)

WAYNE SMITH FAREWELL
The Round-Up Saloon,
3912 Cedar Springs Road.
Jan. 11 at 8 p.m.  Free.
Hungdinger, 4000 Cedar Springs Road. Jan. 12 at 8:30 p.m.

…………………………

For nearly 20 years, Cher has performed almost nightly along the Cedar Springs strip.

“What’s this?” you say. But oh, yes. With a voice and appearance so convincing, patrons react to her as if she’s the real superstar, not Dallas native Wayne Smith performing what has become his signature role.

Known for being friendly and outgoing to everyone who crosses his path, it’s Smith’s singing prowess that has sets him apart from the many drag performers who lip-synch. He’s a true impersonator and a remarkable performer who has helped define Dallas’ gay scene for the past two decades.

But not so much the future of it. Smith will be missed by thousands as he packs up his bags next week to move with his husband Ben Wilson to Columbus, Ohio. It only takes a quick glance at his Facebook page to see how many lives he’s touched here.

In true Cher fashion, Smith isn’t going gently into his Texas retirement. He’ll give multiple farewell performances, with the final curtains this week at the Round-Up Saloon, Hungdinger and the Drama Room.

But performing isn’t the only major event of the week. Tomorrow, he and Wilson celebrate their third wedding anniversary (they were legally married in Stowe, Vt.); a few days after he turns 50.

“I don’t mind. AA-Freakin’-RP!” he jokes about his age. “It’s wonderful to be this old because I’ve done so much with my life. I had a hit children’s books; I sold 67,000 toys at Neiman Marcus, I had a fashion show at the Beverly Hills Hotel, I had my own salon one street over from Rodeo Drive and so much I can’t even remember. I was even a question on Hollywood Squares!”

Smith left Dallas after high school because he thought Los Angeles would be a better place to live as a gay man.

“I went out there to be the next Bob Mackie. Instead, I ended up working for him, which was great because I got to shop with Cher and hang out with people like Marie Osmond, Betty White and Carol Burnett, which was really incredible.”
One fateful Halloween, Mackie talked him into dressing up as Marilyn Monroe; he won a costume contest with his outfit. From such humble beginnings came the drag legend.

“Somebody approached me from La Cage, the original club in Los Angeles that started the show in Vegas. They were starting a new show at the Fontainebleau Hilton in Florida and they needed a Marilyn.” He also had to come up with a second character; a friend convinced him to do Dolly Parton. But one little nip slip changed his attitude forever.

“It was a total disaster,” he laughs. “I think I was the first person to have a wardrobe malfunction. I was doing Marilyn in the pink dress from ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ and every time I raised my arms, my nipples showed. The producer was watching me with his hands over his eyes and I thought, ‘Oh this is great.’ I’d already done Marilyn in a couple of gay bars and I knew I was the best ever. I was a diva, girl. That is really the day when I learned humility.”

Convinced he’d blown his chances, he was persuaded to give it another shot — with a twist.

“I turned it into a comedy act,” he says. “We had big neon poles around the stage and I pretended that my boobs got stuck and I had to pull one around the other side. Everyone was walking in, the performers and the staff, and they were all standing there laughing.”

He was hired on the spot and for a year, he performed in the famed La Ronde Showroom, a stage once graced by Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. When the Florida show closed, Smith was invited to join the cast in Hollywood — and finally got to play Marilyn.

“In Hollywood, if you’re Marilyn, you’re the star of the show. She’s on everything. She’s on toilet paper!” he laughs. “It was the best thing that could have ever happened because I really learned to perfect character makeup. I did Norma Desmond, Marilyn, Dolly — I even got to do Lucille Ball because she personally asked me to impersonate her when she was at a birthday party for Milton Berle at the club. If the room had blown up that night, we would’ve lost so much Hollywood royalty. The room was just packed full of people. It really was amazing.”

Ball never got to see his impersonation of her because shortly after her request, she passed away. To this day, he has a picture of the star from a scene in Mame, which she autographed, “To Wayne, Love Lucy.” It’s one of his most treasured pieces of career memorabilia. “I broke up with a boyfriend while I was performing in Aruba and had a friend break into my apartment in Los Angeles to make sure he got that picture back. And he did!”

In 1989 — shortly after If I Could Turn Back Time was released — Smith ventured into performing as Cher. After a year abroad where he performed Marilyn, Dolly and Cher, he landed back in Dallas and has been performing here ever since: First at Moby Dick, then at Woody’s, Mickey’s, and his latest home, the restaurant/cabaret Hungdinger. For much of his time in Dallas, Smith performed as Cher five to six nights per week up and down the Strip.

“I’ve had an incredible, incredible career here in Dallas. I really have never wanted for work. I’m giving up five nights a week to go to ‘what if’ in Ohio,” he says.

He may not know what lies ahead, but he’s sure of his mark on the world.

“I used to feel like I haven’t done anything with my life. But my dad actually taught me a long time ago that I had. He asked me how many people I’d performed for over the years,” Smith recalls. Between all the shows at La Cage and on TV, they estimated that he’d entertained millions of people. “My dad asked me, ‘Did you make those people forget their problems for a little bit and laugh? How many people can say that?’”

It dawned on him that what he does is much more than just sing a bit in clubs.

“Yeah, some people say I’m an attention whore, or just a drag queen, or just a female impersonator, but you know what? I’ve had people come up to me who are sick or had somebody die in their family to thank me for helping them forget their problems, even if just for a little while. I’m a court jester. I just wear different outfits,” he says.

But though he’s leaving town, this is definitely not the end of Smith — wherever he may end up.

“I’m not Cher, I’ve never claimed to be. But if I can mimic it enough that people still like it, I’ll keep doing it if I’m in a wheelchair gummin’ it to I Got You Babe.”

And that’s something plenty of people would gladly pay to see.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Queering up the slopes

A new gay ski event joins winter wonderlands already catering to gay sportsmen (and chill partiers)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

SHOOT THE BUTTE | Crested Butte, Colo., is home to two gay winter events next year: OutBoard and the inaugural Matthew Shepard Gay Ski Week.

The landscape of gay ski weeks is changing faster than the view from a waxed Telemark swooshing down a double black diamond.

The African-American-centric Winter Explosion enjoyed its last slalom earlier this year, but there’s a new gay ski week founded in conjunction with the Matthew Shepard Foundation — and it’s closer by! And some of the big ones changed their dates in a big way.

Of course, there are many more reachable resorts that don’t have gay ski weeks per se (read about some next week in the Voice), but here are the ones that plan entire weeks around getting queer skiers (and just people who like to cuddle up in the lodge with a furry fellow) to hit their slopes.

Utah Gay & Lesbian Ski Week, Park City, Utah. Jan. 5–9. The season kicks off, as always, in the home of the Sundance Film Festival. Gayskiing.org.

Aspen Gay & Lesbian Ski Week, Aspen, Colo. Jan. 16–23. The 34th annual granddaddy of gay ski weeks brands itself the Wild Wild West this year, and all we have to say is, yee-haw! Dallas-based comedian Paul J. Williams returns to host the Drag Downhill comedy night and performs with Emmy winner Leslie Jordan. GaySkiWeek.com.

Winter Rendezvous XXV, Stowe, Vt. Jan. 19–23. For those who prefer the powder of the Northeast,  Winter Rendezvous returns to the home of U.S.-based gay marriage — Vermont — for its 27th outing. Comedienne Shawn Pelofsky, who recently stopped by the Rose Room, headlines. Winterrendezvous.com.

WinterPride, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. Jan. 30–Feb. 6. Earlier this year, WinterPride got bumped later in the season because of the Winter Olympics (a fair trade — one town can only handle so much gay at one time), but it’s back to early in the season for the 19th annual party where Queernadians are joined by their Anglo-Gringo supports across the border for this skier and snowboarder party. DJs like hot bear Ted Eiel keep the fun going. GayWhistler.com.

Telluride Gay Ski Week, Telluride, Colo. Feb. 26–March 6. Named the U.S.A.’s top gay ski week by Gay.com, the Mountain Village event is back with T-11. Returning to the party are The A-List’s Reichen Lehmkuhl, who will hosting the pool party Wet, and dragcomedy legends the Kinsey Sicks. (Big  news for the Dallas-based traveler: A new nonstop direct flight on American from DFW to Montrose/Telluride Airport.) TellurideGaySkiWeek.com.

Lake Tahoe WinterFest Gay & Lesbian Ski Week, Lake Tahoe, Nev. March 6–12. Organizers insist WinterFest XVI is on the calendar for the first weekend in March, though no details have been released yet. LakeTahoeWinterfest.com.

Mammoth Gay Ski Week, Mammoth Lakes, Calif. March 16–20. Not that boarders aren’t welcome everywhere, but for the biggest gay ski event in California, you just know they are gonna turn out in droves. The 9th annual event kicks off with DJ Josh Peace (who also hosts The Party @ 10,000 Feet) and yummy DJ Escape spinning at the Avalanche party. MammothGaySki.com.

Shoot the Butte (Matthew Shepard Gay Ski Week), Crested Butte, Colo. March 19–26. The newcomer to this year’s ski family is both an ambitious party and a benefit for the murdered teen’s foundation. Reichen pulls double duty (here and in Telluride) with an appearance, and there will be daily skier “hook ups” (meet-and-mixers), a pub crawl and several late dance parties. Be the first to check out this one.  MatthewShepardGaySkiWeek.com.

OutBoard Gay and Lesbian Snowboard Week, Crested Butte, Colo. March 29–April 3. If you like Shoot the Butte, why not just hang around a few days — OutBoard begins just three days later. (In the last three years, it has moved from Crested Butte to Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge and back again to CB this year). You don’t need to snowboard, either — there are ice-skating and wall climbing adventures to be had as well. OutBoard.org.

Vail Gay Ski Week, Vail, Colo. March 30–April 3. Vail, which this year had its event in late January, bumped it two months into the late winter, capping off the gay ski season. This version brings back the Vail Splash Club hot tub and pool party as well as the beer bust and daily après ski socials. VailGaySkiWeek.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens