WHISTLER PRIDE

Out and proud on the slopes for Whistler Pride and Ski Festival.

Gay Whistler is amused. Catcalls and wolf whistles pierce the air as onstage, Australia’s promiscuous Pam Ann — star of Whistler Pride’s Night of Comedy — is bitchy and wickedly crude. Bawdy jokes about drag queens and the actual Queen are as raunchy as you’d expect from a performer with comic shticks such as Cockpit and Plane Filthy. The lewder the joke the louder the crowd.

It’s a cold yet steamy January night inside Whistler Conference Centre. The Canadian ski town’s annual Pride festival is midflight and attendees — nearly 3,000 of skiing’s LGBT community — are up for a night. Seated in the front row, Whistler’s female mayor is tittering shamelessly. Draped in shimmering drag, The Unstoppable Conni Smudge is snorting with glee and the mouths of straight women in the audience are dropping open in shock as Pam Ann mimes fellatio.

Pam Ann Whistler PrideIn its 25th season in 2017, Whistler Pride is an annual celebration of being out and proud on the slopes of one of North America’s largest and most inclusive ski resorts. It began in 1992 as a single-day ski event in the depths of the AIDS epidemic, with hotelier Brent Benaschak (1962-2003) identifying a need for a local gay forum.

During Whistler’s 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the festival’s organizers caught world media attention with an impromptu pride march through Whistler streets. The trigger: homophobic slurs against U.S. Olympic skater Johnny Weir by television sports commentators.

Twenty-five winters in, Whistler Pride has morphed into a weeklong romp through the bars and five-star bistros of what’s now a cosmopolitan ski town situated in one of Canada’s most progressive provinces — British Columbia was among the first to recognize same-sex marriages. Whistler Pride’s 2017 printed guide includes a letter from Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. “We must continue to support those who have experienced discrimination,” he writes, “and remember that we cannot let up on the fight against bigotry.” In that same brochure: a drag queen extravaganza called S’no Ho’s; a Wild West party at Buffalo Bills encouraging goers to “lasso yourself to a stallion or a filly”; and the infamous Splash Pool Party with DJ Pacifico (formerly DJ Pornstar).

But for every naughty night on the town with Whistler Pride, there is a day that is out there but not so out there. On the hill early each morning, LGBT skiers meet with pro ski guides to explore the ins and outs of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. There are packs of novice, intermediate, and incredibly skilled skiers and snowboarders broken into groups. No skier or snowboarder is left behind as they surge forward at breathtaking speeds down Rock’N’Roll, Harmony Bowl, and Blackcomb Glacier. Guides are gifted at sniffing out secret powder stashes, and a daily climb up Spanky’s Ladder quickly separates, as they say, the men from the boys (or the women from the girls).

Where Whistler Pride attendees store their energy reserves is hard to say, but somehow, despite full days skiing Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler Creekside. Nightly parties are everlasting. At Pride’s annual Snowball, for example, wellsculpted men in body paint and glitter — and very little else — shimmy to the beats of EDM till 4 a.m.

It is Whistler Pride events like Snowball (with 1,200 attendees) and the massive rainbow-flagged Whistler Pride Ski + March that make Dean Nelson, the festival’s CEO, most proud. “This year’s pride parade was just so over the top,”

Nelson says once it’s over. “I got dressed up as Princess Skittles, spewing rainbows everywhere! A hundred or so skied down from Whistler mid-station, then 500 people marched with us through the streets of the Village — everyone from locals to our guests ended up in Whistler Olympic Plaza. Twenty people traveled all the way here from Florida to remember those killed in the Orlando attack. We had Syrians, South Africans, and Australians marching with us this year.

It was just remarkable. The weather was perfect. Everyone was really comfortable.”

Whistler Pride GroupAfter more than a decade co-producing Whistler Pride and Ski Festival, Nelson appears indefatigable. When asked what keeps him primed, he points to comment after comment on social media. “They thank us for getting them through whatever they’ve been facing,” he says. “They share their personal stories. They tell us how they met the loves of their lives right here in Whistler. They say they’ve been coming for years, celebrating anniversaries… . ”

Whistler’s 2017 festival is among its largest, with 2,900 passes sold to LGBT skiers from 26 countries, including Germany, New Zealand, and Thailand.

Whistler Pride’s largest clientele comes from the U.S. (41 percent), most of which hail from California, Washington, and the Northeast. The majority (60 percent) hold leadership or executive positions — doctors, lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs, tech and tourism execs. The fest’s new EatOUT options at Whistler’s top bistros — including Araxi, La Bocca, Alta Bistro — are unadulterated hits. In 2017, Whistler Pride’s community partnership with Rainbow Refugee welcomes LGBT immigrants from Uganda, Syria, and Nairobi who’ve escaped persecution. “They say their experiences at Whistler Pride are impactful,” Nelson says. “They are amazed they can walk down the Village streets holding hands with the freedom to be themselves.”

Back inside the CABN at Aava Whistler, the festival’s headquarters and sponsor hotel, an after party is heating up. Conni Smudge’s brash laugh and blush-pink wig are attracting eyes. Hands rise in the air as DJ Joni T spins a pulsating mix of hits. Iconic Pam Ann poses suggestively with Instagrammers; she’s sporting enormous hoop earrings and a sequined mermaid dress. She points at one fan whose wife-beater reads YOU LOOKED BETTER ON GRINDER. Yes, another naughty night at Whistler Pride is just taking off.

https://www.whistlerpride.com/

 

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