2010 Gay Ski Week Preview: Hit the Slopes!

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The Ski Bums guys on one of their weekend jaunts to Stowe, Vermont.

Why hibernate? Steep slopes and steeper discounts are luring gay travelers to the mountains this winter.

It’s no secret that snow-covered mountains are an increasingly popular destination for gay and lesbian travelers. Gay skiing clubs are booming, gay ski weeks are expanding, and with the travel industry in a slump, discounts are even steeper than the slopes. North America just celebrated its earliest ski season launch in 40 years, and with snow blanketing our best resorts, it’s a great year to plan a ski vacation.

“We’ve never seen deals like these,” says Chris French, president of America’s largest LGBT skiing and snowboarding club, Ski Bums. “The ski industry is making a serious push to welcome gay and lesbian travelers. We’ve been able to book Ski Bums vacations in upscale properties, right at the base of the mountain, for rates that you’d normally see from the cheaper hotels on the edge of town.”

But what is it about skiing and snowboarding that appeals to so many LGBT travelers?

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A pair of day-tripping Ski Bums at Hunter Mountain, NY

It’s more than merely a winter sport, of course. It’s about cozy lodges, big roaring fireplaces, an après-ski drink with friends and incredible views of majestic mountain vistas. Learning to ski or snowboard can transform that grumpy instinct to hibernate into a passion to pack up the car when a huge snow storm is on its way.

And, with more gay skiing events in 2010 than ever before, it’s a perfect opportunity to meet new people while you’re exploring some of the world’s most beautiful places. Here are the highlights of the gay and lesbian skiing events this winter, and some tips on how to take advantage of the season’s best discounts.

The world’s largest gay and lesbian skiing and snowboarding club, Ski Bums hosts hosted group ski vacations to resorts around the world. If you like the idea of taking a gay ski trip, but don’t want to worry about the logistics planning (or you’ve seen how frenetic it can be to get all your friends on the same page), they make things easy. Ski Bums plans the entire vacation for you; hotel reservations, lift tickets, ground transfers, private parties and evening meals are all included. With a strong reputation for well-organized trips and excellent lodging, they also welcome skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. In 2010, they’re adding new skill-improvement programs; you can learn to ski or snowboard for the very first time, or start tackling moguls and half-pipes like a pro.

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A few Ski Bums snag some on-the-slopes R&R in Big Sky, Montana.

Ski Bums focuses on keeping things fun, intimate and hands-on; each trip has between forty and fifty participants from around the country. From late fall to early spring, members are invited to Avalanche, a series of ongoing parties held at gay bars in New York City and Washington, DC. Ski Bums also offers additional parties and a brand-new weekend getaway just for women, known as Girl Powder.

BARGAIN ALERT: Ski Bums members receive big discounts – up to 40% off — from skiing and snowboarding retailers like Eastern Mountain Sports, Burton and Backcountry.com. If you’re thinking of buying new skis, a snowboard, boots or an outfit, the Ski Bums discounts can bring major savings. Additionally, American Airlines offers discounted fares for all Ski Bums trips (and most of the major gay ski weeks) at http://www.aa.com/rainbow.

The 2010 Ski Bums hosted vacations are:

Jackson Hole & Grand Targhee, Wyoming: January 19 – 24
http://www.ski-bums.org/2010jacksonhole

Girl Powder Weekend at Belleayre, NY: January 29 – 31
America’s very first all-lesbian skiing and snowboarding weekend!
http://www.ski-bums.org/2010girlpowder

Killington, VT: February 4 – 7
http://www.ski-bums.org/2010killington

Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy: February 19 – 27
http://www.ski-bums.org/2010cortina

Snowbird & Snowbasin, Utah: March 10 – 14
http://www.ski-bums.org/2010snowbird

Taos, New Mexico: March 24 – 28
http://www.ski-bums.org/2010taos

Mammoth, California: April 7 – 11
http://www.ski-bums.org/2010mammoth

Valle Nevado and Portillo, Chile: late August / early September
http://www.ski-bums.org/2010chile

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Getting serious, Alpine-style in St. Anton, Austria.
And here’s this writer’s picks of some of the Best Gay Ski Week options awaiting you out there…
NORTH AMERICA

Aspen / Snowmass, CO | January 17 – 24, 2010

The very first gay ski week in history, Aspen is where it all began. Today, it draws hundreds of revelers who make the trek to America’s tawniest, most gay-friendly ski town. If you’re not a skier or snowboarder, don’t let it stop you. While the dance parties with well-known DJ’s often draw the non-skiing Denver boys, a number of its off-mountain events are where some of the most unique fun can be had. Don’t miss the Friendship Cup, the annual match-up between a gay and straight hockey team hosted by GForce, an inspiring local Colorado team of gay hockey players.

BARGAIN ALERT: Hotels in the town of Aspen itself are notoriously expensive; have a look in nearby Snowmass Village for lodging that offers better rates and even bigger stretches of nearby slopes. You won’t have to compromise on quality; be sure to look into the stunning brand-new Viceroy at Snowmass.

Vail, CO | January 27 – 31, 2010

Vail Gay Ski Week is smaller in scale than some of the other annual gatherings, but it’s a great opportunity to bond with other ski-happy gays, and enjoy one of Colorado’s best mountains and ski towns. Events include a “Sex Toy Ride” for women (Whoa!) and nightlife events featuring DJ Sammy Jo (of Scissor Sisters fame) and lots of shopping and eating options.

Telluride, CO | February 20 – 27, 2010

Although it still feels like the new kid on the gay ski week block, Telluride Gay Ski Week is happily celebrating its tenth anniversary. At what could easily be called America’s most scenic ski area, Telluride is an unassuming old-silver mining town that blends its old-fashioned charm with modern bistros and hip bars. In 2010, the Telluride Gay Ski Week fills its schedule with dance parties and comedy nights, and stands apart from the others with a special focus on charity events and fund-raising. Its new beneficiary is the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

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Skiiers get dragged up for the Telluride Gay Ski Week Drag Race on the slopes!
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Dante’s Cove and Bump! star Charlie David (left) and RuPaul’s Drag Race star Ongina (right) get cute at a Telluride Gay Ski Week shindig.

Whistler / Blackcomb, BC | March 1 – 8, 2010

The charming village of Whistler, BC is preparing for glory as a site for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, and WinterPRIDE has been pushed back to March. The largest of the gay ski weeks, WinterPRIDE also offers the biggest selection of events, with dinners, wine tastings, safer-sex clinics, beer bar-crawls and even guided snowmobile tours. There are events just for the women, too – something you don’t find at most gay ski weeks. Thankfully, the terrain at Whistler / Blackcomb is the largest in North America, and although the weather can famously temperamental, the sheer size of the resort means there’s always snow to be found.

One exciting piece of news: Canada’s gay-friendly atmosphere will share the Olympic spirit inside a brand-new venue for LGBT athletes, family and friends. It’s called PRIDE House, described as “a hip lounge with a cocktail bar with TV monitors to watch the Olympics, hang out, trade pins, a media area to do interviews, and a venue to just have fun.” It’ll be hosted at the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre from the start of the Olympics through the final days of WinterPRIDE.

BARGAIN ALERT: Flights to and from Vancouver can be pricy during the ski season, but have a close look at the overnight jaunts from Asia-bound airlines like Cathay Pacific. You may lose a little sleep, but you can save hundreds of dollars.

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Chilling before heading down the mountain in Aspen.

Lake Tahoe, NV & CA | March 7 – 14, 2010

Now in its 15th year, WinterFest brings gay ski fun to Lake Tahoe (straddling the Nevada/California border), centered at the Lakeland Village Beach and Mountain Resort, with some great skiing and boarding on offer at both Heavenly Tahoe and Sierra at Tahoe resorts. Last year saw the first-ever OutLaugh Comedy Festival coinciding with WinterFest; this year a Comedy Night is planned featuring out comic Danny Leary.

Breckenridge, CO | March 30 – April 4, 2010

The most laid-back of the bunch, Outboard focuses on snowboarders – although skiers are certainly welcome. This year’s host mountain is Breckenridge, a springtime skiing paradise that promises abundant sunshine and soft snow at the tail end of the North American ski season.

BARGAIN ALERT: Outboard’s events are unquestionably the most affordable of the lot, with cover prices for its fun-filled parties hovering in the $30 range. One grand exception is the Outboard Extravaganza closing night festivities, a drag-queen show and dance party that promises to be the “extra-largest Outboard event in history.”

EUROPE

Skiers and snowboarders in Europe have more gay ski weeks than ever before to choose from. The ever popular Arosa Gay Ski Week is probably the most highly-organized one, at a beautifully charming Swiss ski resort. New for 2010, Norway gets in on the action with the new Scandinavian Ski Pride.

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Yes, resting is allowed on the slopes from time to time.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE

If you’re pining for off-season escapes to trade-in the summertime heat for a Southern Hemisphere winter, check out Ski Bums annual trek to South America. This year, they’re planning vacations to Portillo and Valle Nevado — two of Chile’s top resorts — in late August and early September.

Argentina continues to invite gay skiers to the beautiful resort of Bariloche for Bariloche Gay Ski Week, although previous years have found little participation and highly unreliable conditions. You’ll probably have better luck at the successful Gay Ski Week New Zealand, a powerhouse week that draws adventure-loving men and women from New Zealand, Australia and abroad to the stunning vacation area of Queenstown.

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Getting a lift in Bariloche, Argentina. Ski here often?

NOTE: Not all gay ski weeks are the same; a handful of gay ski weeks can end up as little more than a marketing company putting together packages of ski travel, without much organization or events once you’re there. Visit the websites of any new gay ski weeks and keep a close eye on their schedule of events; a pattern of constant changes doesn’t bode well for the event organizers’ put-togetherness.

For a full listing of other gay ski weeks, you can have a look here:
http://gaytravel.about.com/od/gaysportsevents/qt/gay_ski_weeks.htm

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Skiing with friends can be a blast. And then relaxing at the of a day’s run? Even better.
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Ongina rides again! See you at Telluride, beeyotches!