Gay pride celebrations have long been synonymous with summer time fun and half naked bodies on floats. But WinterPRIDE, Whistler, B.C.'s week long Pride event held in the chilly climes of winter has turned that stereotype on its ear. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, WinterPRIDE2012 (February 5-12, 2012) had so many things to see and do that it is a wonder anyone holds Pride events at any other time.
Whistler's event originally started 20 years ago as an alternative to a similar affair held in Colorado. When Colorado's Amendment 2 passed -- giving employers the right to discriminate based upon sexual orientation -- the LGTBQ community formed a boycott. Local organizers in Vancouver, seeing an opportunity, approached Whistler Blackcomb who welcomed the event with open arms. GayWhistler.com, operated by Dean Nelson and Ken Coolen took over the operation a few years back and have spearheaded its incredible growth ever since.
Situated two hours out of Vancouver, via the truly breathtaking "Sea to Sky Highway," Whistler Blackcomb (the official alpine skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games) consistently ranks number one with travel magazines as the premiere ski destination in North America. Whistler receives on average over 1,090 centimetres (430 inches) of snow annually -- and can boast one of the longest ski seasons of all the major resorts.
Whistler offers world class amenities, with plenty of accommodations to suit every style and budget. From the home style comfort of the Whistler Village Inn & Suites to the luxurious surrounding of the Pan Pacific Whistler, all the hotels offer the perfect mix of value and location. With endless choices of things to experience at WinterPRIDE, having the vast majority of hotels within a short walk to gondolas, amazing restaurants, spas, nightclubs and of course plenty of retail shopping just made the event all the better, especially with such an action packed daily agenda.
This year's WinterPRIDE saw the inclusion of special event status by the Township of Whistler, and with this added seal of approval, the celebration's first pride parade took place. And in true snowbound fashion, it was a parade with a twist, half skied and half marched.
Starting high atop the mountain, a giant rainbow flag was slowly snow-plowed down the hill, enveloped by the applauding participants and bystanders at the base, then paraded through the Village to the Convention Centre where Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden officially proclaimed the week WinterPRIDE!
The organizers provided something for everyone, be it outdoor activities or nightlife fun. Set in gorgeous surroundings with a welcoming "live and let live" way of looking at the world, the queer community that dropped in to Whistler's backyard were all welcomed with open arms.
There was plenty to do in the way of sports action, WinterPRIDE offered snow shoeing, dog sledding, snow mobile tours, the prerequisite snowboarding and skiing and, for the daredevils, skeleton racing on the 2010 Olympic course. This writer, though tempted, decided against hurtling herself headfirst down a mountain at 90km an hour, my "pride" extending to the safety of the packed Village Square.
For those who preferred the après ski lifestyle, WinterPRIDE pulled out all the stops, with wine tasting events, daily afternoon t-dances in the cavernous Whistler Convention Centre, a comedy showcase, drag night, an "Up Your Kilt" party, a western themed ho-down complete with square dancing and even a pool party at the local community centre complete with Australian DJ Dan Murphy (dressed in Ozzie lifeguard attire). The sight of hundreds of half naked bodies, strutting their macho selves while balancing upon giant inflatable pool toys all to the powerhouse dance beats playing in the background definitely brought new meaning to the phrase "water sports."
There were of course many late night parties for both sexes including FURR-OCIOUS (leather party), PURRlesque (burlesque event with renowned artist Burgundy Brixx) and the annual Flygirl Productions SHRED BETTIES closing party that played to a packed house of lesbians and friends from all walks of life. A quick poll of the room found women from Switzerland, Australia, England, Canada and the U.S. dancing up a storm to the music of international DJs, all situated against a backdrop of late night tobogganers flying down the hills outside.
The parties culminated in the annual SNOWBALL, the giant finale house party that packed in revellers until the wee hours of the morn for one last kick at the can.
Throughout the week-long event there was also the Mr. Gay Canada contest, which saw some of Canada's best and brightest vying for the opportunity to hold the 2012 title and take part in the Mr. Gay World event taking part in South Africa later this year.
WinterPRIDE 2012 was an amazing experience for the LGTBQ traveller looking to try something new on the international pride calendar scene. People from all walks of life headed there from Australia, France, England, the U.S., Switzerland and Belgium to name but a few, all with one common denominator: to have a great time in an incredible setting. And from the looks on smiling but exhausted faces by the end of the week, Gay Whistler's WinterPRIDE 2012 did not disappoint.
Next year WinterPRIDE has promised to be bigger with even more events, and many of the attendees I spoke to have already penciled in February 3-10, 2013 to repeat the experience of this action packed winter Pride getaway.
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