Boards, BOYS & beers: Man, nature are in accord at Whistler’s gay ski week event WinterPRIDE

HILLS ARE ALIVE | Even a fab party schedule shouldn’t keep you off the slopes at WinterPRIDE.

NICK VIVION  | Contributing Travel Writer
gaytravel.com

Moments after arriving at the Whistler resort in Canada, I find myself walking down the main drag in a harness, with straps dangling and my crotch scrunched up in a tidy triangle. Boys are staring at me as I walk down Skiers Approach towards the slopes.

“Who knew that I would be in a harness so fast,” I joke, marking the official start of my WinterPride.

The First Nations peoples in Whistler have a striking moniker for their traditional home: Where mountains, rivers and people meet. That’s an apt description not only of the British Columbia region but also of WinterPRIDE, one of North America’s largest and longest-running gay ski weeks.

WinterPRIDE celebrates the intersections of nature and people in the gay community, providing a solid base of parties and events to whet the appetite of even the most avid circuit partier or event-monger. On top of this base, just like the fresh powder that falls on the mountains here regularly, the organizers have layered a multitude of experiences that shake things up and allow gays to meet in contexts beyond nightlife.

The dual mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb are the anchors of Whistler Village, the two omnipresent elders watching over their flock. The Lower Village is home to the majority of the shops and restaurants, while the Upper Village is mostly the higher-end resorts and hotels.

The town itself is small, with a permanent population of roughly 10,000. There is also an army of seasonal workers who man chairlifts, cash registers and guide positions for the many activities.

The Whistler Blackcomb resort spans the largest skiable acreage of any resort on the continent, so it’s no surprise that WinterPRIDE is a marquee event for the area, bringing in gay men and women from all over the world to take advantage of the fabulous terrain. In addition, the breadth of the resort affords non-boarders an abundance of activities to stoke any passion.

So, back to the harness: Nothing really gay about it; we are simply going ziplining.

Whistler’s Ziptrek has one of North America’s original zip courses, and one of the best. The guides are well-spoken and passionate about conversing on issues affecting the area, which is one of the last remaining temperate rainforests on earth.

There is nothing quite like zooming along at high speeds, hands-free and spinning, watching the winter wonderland of babbling brooks, snow-capped stones and stately pine trees laid out.

There’s a sensuality to a week in B.C., and not just because it is gay ski week. The bonding over physical activity in a locale remote from everyone’s comfort zones allows for significant connections among gay travelers, as well as between nature and man.

After an active day on the mountain, there were plenty of après-ski events: A comedy night, a pool party, a drag party, a bear party, downhill ski races, dog sledding, brewery tours and more.

The apex of Whistler’s WinterPRIDE lineup is Saturday night’s Snowball. The party goes on until the sky lightens, revealing the soft outline of the towering peaks of Whistler Blackcomb Mountains. The party thins out after the booze stops around 3 a.m., but the remaining crowd is full-tilt.

WinterPRIDE turns 20 in 2012, and the Snowball is the centerpiece for the festivities. This year, a robust performance lineup, combined with an impressive conversion of the Whistler Conference Center into a nightclub to make it a hit, with DJ Eddie Baez grinding out his signature tribal-
inflected beats and keeping the crowd moving.

As we wandered out in a daze, the morning was settling in and the WinterPRIDE week was coming to a close. Staggering to bed, it was going to be a sleep-in kind of morning — even if a fluffy layer of powder was glistening, beckoning for some fresh tracks.

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

—  John Wright