By Nick Vivion
gay travel guru
Moments after arriving in Whistler, Canada, I find myself walking down the main drag in a harness, with straps dangling and my crotch scrunched up in a tidy triangle. And the boys are staring at me. I hadn’t noticed before, but more and more gays are revealing themselves with their stares as my boyfriend Kevin and I walk down Skiers Approach towards the slopes.
“Who knew that I would be in a harness so fast,” I joke, elbowing Kevin as a few scattered groups of North Face-clad men looked our way. Kevin rolls his eyes, marking the official start of my WinterPRIDE!
Earlier in the day, as I bounced along the spectacular Sea-to-Sky Highway on Pacific Coach Lines, the area’s plentiful bounty repeatedly crossed my mind. The twists and turns of the newly enlarged highway hug the mountainside, with shimmering lakes and fir-studded slopes reaching skyward. Without a doubt one of the Canada’s most memorable drives, the 70-minute journey is an excellent primer for what waits ahead in Whistler.
The First Nations peoples in Whistler have a striking moniker for their traditional home: where mountains, rivers and people meet. I find that to be an apt description not only of the British Columbia region that I find myself exploring, but also of the tenor of WinterPRIDE, one of North America’s largest and longest running ski weeks.
WinterPRIDE is all about 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 only roughly 10,000 hardcore locals. There is also an army of seasonal workers that come mainly from Australia and Europe, to man the 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.
Take me for example. I love to snowboard, but after a concussion on Whiteface Mountain a couple of years ago, I have been reluctant to get back at it. So I was pleased to see a full itinerary that allowed me to experience the full buffet of wilderness adventures that are available at Whistler Mountain.
So…getting back to that harness. We had just arrived in Whistler, and had hastily unpacked our winter necessities in our warm suite at the Pan Pacific Village Centre. We had a packed itinerary, with little time to change. And as I hate the cold, I am always quick to layer it up: Long underwear, jeans, and snowboard pants are common if I fear the cold.
Fast forward to Skiers Approach, where my layers have now been bunched up like chiffon over my midsection. I am taking it in stride, because frankly it doesn’t matter to me: We are going ZIPLINING! Woo hoo!
Zip lining always makes me happy, and Whistler’s Ziptrek has one of North America’s original zip courses. In my humble opinion, it is also one of the best. The guides are well-spoken and passionate about conversing issues affecting the area, which is one of the last remaining temperate rainforests on earth.
And there is nothing quite like zooming along at high speeds, hands-free and spinning, upside-down and right side up, watching the winter wonderland of babbling brooks, snow-capped stones and stately pine trees laid out all around! This was my first wintertime zip, and while my hands were fast frozen, the winter provides an altogether more sensual connection with the world unfolding around you on each segment.
I felt this same sort of sensuality as the week progressed, and not just because it was gay ski week! The ability for bonding over physical activity in a locale separated from everyone’s comfort zones really allowed for significant connections among gay travelers, as well as between nature and the individual.
And of course, after an active day on the mountain, there were plenty of après-ski events to whet the whistle and catch up with new friends. Every afternoon from 3-6pm, there are various sponsored après-ski events at the Whistler Conference Center. There is a comedy night, there are several events focused just on the ladies, there is a pool party, a drag party, a bear party, downhill ski races, dog sledding, brewery tours and so much more planned goodness.
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 3am, but the remaining crowd is full-tilt.
WinterPRIDE turns 20 in 2012, and the Snowball has been the centerpiece for the festivities for quite some time. This year, a robust performance lineup, combined with an impressive conversion of the Whistler Conference Center into nightclub central, made the Snowball a full-on hit.
New York’s DJ Eddie Baez headlined, grinding out his signature tribal-inflected beats and keeping the crowd moving. Before he jumped on the decks, there were two very different but energetic performances by Rockstar’s Zayra and Vancouver’s DESTINEAK. Zayra worked it out in a captain’s outfit and severe knee-high leather boots with 6-inch heels. She came ready to rock, and the crowd paid attention.
DESTINEAK brought a unique flavor as the first performance of the night, mixing vocals, instruments and tracks into a wonderful livetronica set. Bobby and Christina are a husband-and-wife musical duo striving to redefine what’s expected in a live performance, and giving it their all each and every time. I really rocked out as Christina sang their destined-for-radio single “Calling My Name,” because when someone drops their entire being in a performance it’s hard not to get into it!
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.