As far as gay ski weeks go -- or gayest ski destinations, period -- you can't beat WinterPRIDE, which kicks off its 20th year this weekend, Feb 5-12, in the tony mountain town of Whistler, a 3 1/2 train ride north of Vancouver, BC. Eight days, over 65 parties, and 2500 people (with about half from Canada and a third from Europe) make it not only the biggest, but possibly the most festive and fun of the bunch, with plenty to do whether you're ready to shred it on primo powder or just looking for some lodge time.
A first this year, Whistler Municipality has officially proclaimed it "Pride Week", with a rainbow flag flying high at town hall and a parade on February 9, from Skier's Plaza to Whistler Conference Center, kicking off at 3pm with a salute by the mayor at 5pm. This on the heels of the region's groundbreaking WInter Olympics Gay Village in 2010.
But what of the parties and events? Here, a run-down of the few not to miss, plus a few tips on how to survive the fun.
Saturday, Feb. 4th
9pm, Release: Avalanche Kick off party in Vancouver @ Celebrities
Sunday, Feb. 5th
7-10pm, Welcome Party and Retrospective on the Past 20 Years @ the Conference Center
10pm-1am, Welcome Dance @ Buffalo Bill's
Monday, Feb. 6th
1pm-3pm, Callaghan Cruiser Snowmobile Tour
9pm-Late, Up Yer Kilt Party at the Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub
Tuesday, Feb. 7th
12pm-3pm, Trappers' Run Dog Sledding
2pm-3pm, Ice Skating @ Whistler Olympic Plaza
9pm-2am, Cowboy & Cowgirl Party @ Buffalo Bill's (Yee Haw!)
Wednesday, Feb. 8th
1pm-3pm, WinterPRIDE Inner Tubing @ CocaCola Tube Park, Blackcomb
9pm-2am, Gender Bender Drag Ball @ Garfinkels
Thursday, Feb. 9th - OFFICIAL PRIDE DAY
9am-1pm, The Medicine Trail Snow Shoeing
1pm-3pm, Pride Skelton @ Whistler Sliding Center
1pm-3pm, Barefoot Mixology with Win @ the Aava
2pm-3:30pm, PRIDE MARCH, Whistler's Skiers Plaza
5pm-5-5:30pm, Proclamation by the Mayor
3pm-6pm, HIM Wellness Center @ Conference Center
8pm-10pm, Comedy Night with Jason Stuart and Julia Stretch
10pm-Late, WinterPRIDE Pool Party @ Meadow Park (pack that speedo!)
Friday, Feb. 10th
12pm-2pm, WinterPRIDE Charity Ski Race on Blackcomb
12pm-3pm, Pride Eagle Zip Trek Tour
2pm-4pm, Whistler Brewery Beer Tasting @ the Aava
3pm-6pm, GuySpy Apres Ski Village T-Dance
6pm-7pm, HIM Speed Dating @ Conference Center
FRIDAY NIGHT PARTIES, 9pm-2am:
Furrocious: Leather, Denim, Fetish Party @ Conference Center
Purrlesque: Bisexual/Lesbian Party with Burgundy Brixx @ GLC
Snowstorm: Club Kid Circuit Party @ Garfinkels
Saturday, Feb. 11th
5pm-6pm, 2012 Mr. Gay Canada Finale (filmed for OutTV)
9pm-2am, Shred Betties: Lesbian Party @ GLC
10pm-4am, Snowball 20 with DJ Manny Lehman @ Conference Center (If you go to one party, go to this!)
Sunday, Feb 12
10am-1pm, Farewell Brunch @ CBB's Bar & Grill
3pm-7pm, Detox @ Sandinave Spa
For tickets and more details, as well as the list of full events, click here.
Tip: Don't Be Overwhelmed
Festival organizer Dean Nelson explains that the key is pacing -- the first part of the week is more focused on snow activities, the weekend social stuff naturally -- and not trying to do everything. The key is deciding what you want your week to be. Is it quality time on the slopes you want? One major event? Time to explore the award-winning culinary scene or indulge in a spa? Answer that and make your own adventure.
Tip: Ski socially
Even if you came with your partner or a group of buddies, take advantage of the free daily ski guiding to get in with a group at your ski level -- i.e. don't be afraid of breaking up for the day. With 8,171 acres at your disposal, everyone will be happier and more fulfilled if they're not worrying about holding someone back, or being held back themselves. “You and your boyfriend can enjoy a nice leisurely ski with other people of similar skiing ability, meeting new friends, and then at lunchtime you can come back together, do a couple runs, and then come back for après and meet up with everybody again,” Nelson explained to local press. The guiding is free with your lift ticket.
Tip: Make Time for Meals
Break bread with new friends or reconvene with old over lunch and dinner. Every day there's a designated lunch in a lodge on the slopes and each night WinterPRIDE designates two restaurants for a "Dine-Around". Even if you fly solo you don't have to eat ramen in your room. On Thursday, there's even a Whistler "Finer Things" Tasting Tour from 4-8pm.
Tip: Take a Day for Something Different
It might be tempting to spend all your time shredding Whistler/Blackcomb, but there are plenty of other event scheduled to mix things up. Your glutes will thank you. Try snowmobile rides, inner-tubing, dog sledding, or a zip treks. New this year: skeleton slide experience on Thursday. Don't forget your tutu!
Tip: Yes to Après Ski
There's one a night. Need we say more.
Tip: How to Survive a Really Busy Day
With late snows across the country, skiers are hungry for some fresh powder. It will be busy. Don't get annoyed. Get prepared.
Tip: Stay Connected
Updates come quick. Use WinterPRIDE's Twitter and Facebook feeds to keep in the loop and see/share photos.
Still need accommodation? Or transport? Or more friendly advice? Call GayWhistler's Central Reservations at (866) 787-1966. They can quickly review all of Whistler's inventory and help narrow the search and find you the right place with your budget in mind. They can also book all of your winter adventures like ski tickets, ski school, ski/snowboard rentals, Dog Sledding, Snowmobile Tours as well as your ground transfers from Vancouver airport.