With Gus Kenworthy Highlighting LGBTQ Wintersports at the Recent Winter Olympics, There’s an Even Stronger Spotlight on Gay Ski Weeks This Season

In Canada, British Columbia has always been at the forefront of this movement with the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival, attracting people from 26 countries. CEO Dean Nelson says around 3000 revellers turned up last year, the majority from Canada, USA, Australia, UK and Brazil. “About 87% of them enjoyed the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb and nearly 50% of the guests had an Epic Pass,” says Nelson. Out of the wild and wonderful weeklong schedule, the free ski guiding and après ski series typically get the most attendance. “The social aspect of Whistler Pride is still important, though some of our programming has changed over the years to be less focused on the circuit parties and more on social engagement like the comedy show and art gallery wine reception,” says Nelson. “The final weekend is still popular with the Friday night Furrocious Party and the Saturday Snowball.” Due to demand, the schedule has remained relatively consistent for the past five years including the Scandinavian Spa Sip & Dip, final weekend dance parties, and the Friday Pride Parade and ski out. This year, attendees will benefit from a $66 million ski lift investment by Vail Resorts. Dates for the 27th Whistler Pride and Ski Festival are Jan 20-27 this season.

­Also in BC, Big White’s Peak Pride weekend is now in its third season. Scheduled for April 5-7, it promotes a fun and playful vibe on and off the slopes. Organizer Dustyn Baulkham says numbers have increased each season: “The Big White weekend has grown over the first two years,” says Baulkham. “We see between 200 to 250 people attend the various events. Some are not ticketed and by donation, so it’s more difficult to count.” Baulkham hopes to grow Peak Pride over a range of ski areas. “I will keep pricing as reasonable and accessible as possible,” he promises. “I estimate that about 60 to 70% of people who attend go to ski or board but most of them also party. I remember last year talking to people who were out skiing on three hours sleep and were having a blast.” He says 75% of attendees are BC residents but with a growing contingent from Montreal, Ottawa and even Seattle. Baulkham says success in Big White has led Rebellious Unicorns Production Company Inc. to expand to Sun Peaks this winter, with an event set for March 1-3. Events Manager, Cara Karpluk says that Sun Peak’s first Peak Pride is adding variety to their activity calendar. “This segment of the marketplace is a valuable one based on the success of other already established events and it also helps promote a message of inclusivity,” she adds. “It should be a fun and engaging time for staff, locals, and visitors – a welcome addition to our already busy calendar.”

Elevation is bringing Mont Tremblant up to date with downhill diversity this season. Quebec’s first LGBTQ ski festival will run Jan 31-Feb 3 with a full schedule of skiing and lively themed après activities including a wine evening, a beach party and onesie event. The flamboyant festival has been gaining momentum over the past 17 seasons at Mammoth Lakes and eight at Park City. Elevation’s skiing weekends have become famous for dynamic DJ dance parties, attracting around 2,500 participants from around the world. There are various pass packages for all the après events as well as discounted lift tickets and lessons.

Event marketer, Tom Whitman has been organizing Elevation since the outset and will now be promoting Elevation Tremblant. “When Alterra consolidated and became the owner of Mammoth, my friends at Mammoth Mountain approached me about expanding to a third location. I took a look at the portfolio and I knew that Tremblant was the perfect choice,” he explains. “It is easy to get to from Montreal, Toronto and New York City, as well as the rest of the East Coast. And it is one of the best resorts in Eastern North America. And, shockingly, it didn’t have a gay ski week yet.” Having visited, he says the whole town is excited to be part of Elevation, with at least 500 attendees expected for the launch year, hopefully doubling in size for year two. The gay community, he explains, is maturing beyond the nightclub scene and wanting like-minded activities in a gay setting. The increasing focus on gay ski weeks is part of this transformational trend. “I also think that it’s because gay ski weeks are a very special type of event: I like to say that it is a place where the city attitude is dropped,” says Whitman. “Everyone is open to meeting new people and making new friends. Elevation Mammoth and Elevation Park City have become mainstays for thousands of LGBTQ people every year, and I have already heard that many of them are excited to check out Tremblant.”

Alberta’s first and only rainbow ski spree revolves around Marmot Basin, Jasper National Park, and the delightful town of Jasper. Celebrating its first decade April 25-28 2019, the annual Jasper Pride Festival attracts travellers, workers, students, ski bums and tourists from all over the world. Originally a one-night event for around 40 people in 2009, it has grown to over 1200 participants in 2018. “During the festival, this quaint mountain town explodes with colour and celebration,” says Festival Manager, Jordan Tucker. Daytime schedules feature spring skiing, including a costumed ski fun run culminating in a BBQ with DJ music at Marmot Basin’s mid-mountain chalet. Other winter sports available are guided ice canyon walks, ice-climbing, sledding, and snowshoeing. “By night, watch for drag shows, burlesque, the launch of a Pride-themed craft beer by Jasper Brewing Co. and the signature Pride Party,” Tucker describes. The vivacious vibe is consistent throughout the town, he says. “The destination of Jasper prides itself on being a welcoming, safe and inclusive community. During Pride, our business community decorate their storefronts and windows and many have Pride flags year-round to welcome and support the local and visiting LGBTQ Community.”

A survey taken in 2016 revealed that most participants came from Edmonton and Calgary but others travelled especially for the event from Grande Prairie, Fort St. John, Vancouver, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, USA and as far afield as the UK. Typical spend during the four-day event in 2016 was between $500 and $1000 per person, although some spent up to $2000. The estimated economic impact back then was around $300,000 but Tucker says that has increased to over $800,000 now. Loyalty was a significant factor in the survey results with 81% saying that they would attend the following year.

Rainbow Ski Weekend returns to Blue Mountain, ON, March 23-24 with a combo of snowsports, family activities, and creative après. “The event features outdoor entertainment, après parties, an official flag raising ceremony, family-friendly Drag Queen shows, interactive groove dancing, interactive drumming with crowd-favourite Bambalamb, and a special lodging package,” says Meghan Harwood, Marketing & Communications Coordinator for Blue Mountain Village Association.

Studies have shown that the ‘pink pound’ – as LGBTQ revenue is referred to in the UK – is well worth attracting with dedicated events, as the overall spend is more per capita than the average visitor. And it’s not just sound economics: resorts seen to embrace diversity are attracting more Millennials, whose decision-making is driven more by ethics and inclusivity than other demographic groups.

The UNWTO 2017 Global Report on LGBT Tourism found that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender tourism had experienced a significant increase in recent years: “Gradually, this dynamic segment has proven its capacity to become a powerful vehicle for economic development. Yet the positive impacts of LGBT tourism reach far beyond mere economic benefits. Indeed, destinations welcoming LGBT tourism convey a powerful image of tolerance and respect. Destinations advocating LGBT rights consequently become significant global advocates of universal human rights.”

CMI Community Marketing & Insights, which has specialized in LGBT research since 1992, says that LGBTQ Canadians take slightly fewer vacations than their US counterparts, but that Canadians tend to spend more days in the destination when they travel, resulting in the same economic impact. Around 61% of those surveyed in a 2017 report travel for leisure during winter and around 50% are attracted by places known to be LGBTQ-friendly. The biggest influences on choice of destination were recommendations by family or LGBTQ friends. Another result showed that attendance at hometown Pride Festivals is on the increase from 51% of respondents in 2016 to 64% in 2017.

For more information, read the CMI LGBTQ Travel Survey 2018.

This post is also available in: French