POOF How to hit the slopes at the annual Whistler Pride & Ski Festival - and hit the après-ski even harder

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POOF How to hit the slopes at the annual Whistler Pride & Ski Festival - and hit the après-ski even harder

                                               How to hit the slopes at the annual Whistler Pride & Ski Festival
                                                                              – and hit the après-ski even harder

                                                                                                    By Doug Wallace

                           46   IN MAGAZINE
POOF How to hit the slopes at the annual Whistler Pride & Ski Festival - and hit the après-ski even harder
Ever since Benito the mountaineer literally swept me off my feet          pools are so hot, everyone has to lounge waist-deep to avoid passing
at Gay Ski Week in Arosa, Switzerland, I have vowed to take in            out, which makes for premium ogling. Me, I’m just glad it’s dark.
Canada’s premier LGBTQ ski event, too. And from the second I
step off the YVR Skylynx and into the magic of the Whistler Pride         Daytimes, we remind ourselves that we’re here for the hills, not just
& Ski Festival, I am hooked – to the vibe, the snow, the conviviality,    the gaying, and manage four full days of skiing, which has to be a
and the hundreds of very fit men.                                         record for me. The side-by-side mountains of Whistler-Blackcomb
                                                                          have more than 8,000 acres of terrain, with enough variety across
I had visited Whistler the previous summer, a week busy with              200 trails for every level of skier. There are so many lifts, we get
canoeing, kayaking, and cycling along the 35-kilometre Valley             lost not once but twice. We even take the wrong trail down one
Trail that connects all of Whistler’s neighbourhoods, lakes, parks        afternoon, ending up at the Creekside base, and have to take a
and all. There is ATV and zipline adventure for those looking for         transit bus back to the hotel – not embarrassing at all.
exhilaration, but I was content with just a stroll along the Cloudraker
Skybridge high above the treeline, followed up with a nice burrito.        Laying out the welcome mat
                                                                          “Pride & Ski is hands-down my favourite week,” says Sarah Morden,
Winter at Whistler-Blackcomb, on the north edge of Garibaldi               senior specialist of international communications of Vail Resorts.
Provincial Park, presents a totally different face, of course. It’s the   “The whole vibe of the town is elevated, effervescent. There’s a
last week of January and we check into the Aava Whistler Hotel             party spirit everywhere you go and the events are amazing – the
(the festival headquarters), stash our gear in the basement, then hit      dancing, the outfits!
the outdoor pool. There’s a buzz in the steamy air, guests looking
forward to a week of camaraderie, much of it happening a few steps        “Pride tends to be very emotional as well,” she adds. “People come
away in the Whistler Conference Centre and surrounding pubs.               from all over bringing an international flavour. There’s a weight
                                                                           lifted, a freedom of expression and love. I find it moving every
We quickly realize that the après-ski schedule is so breakneck, we’ll      year, and people are overwhelmed by how welcoming the town is.”
have to trim it down to fit everything in, like my nap. There are
cocktail mixers every afternoon, a full weekend of tea dances, an         While the parties will have to skip a year due to COVID-related
indoor pool party and a full evening takeover of Scandinave Spa           dampening, Whistler is taking all the necessary precautions to
Whistler, a cousin to our Collingwood outpost, with a rejuvenating        ensure the most safe and successful upcoming season possible given
maze of outdoor hot and cold pools, steam rooms and wood-fired            the circumstances, with a new reservations system to access the
saunas. Normally extremely quiet with no talking allowed – attendants     mountain. There’s also the new Whistler Blackcomb Day Pass, on
are shushing full-time – the spa is chatty and a bit bratty. The hot      sale until early December, which yields flexible lift access for one

POOF How to hit the slopes at the annual Whistler Pride & Ski Festival - and hit the après-ski even harder
to 10 days at prices way lower than the ticket window. The resort         Village dining doesn’t disappoint either, the regular hotspots serving

                           is also continually upgrading both the skiing and the amenities,          superb comfort food to line up for. Ditto the cocktail lists, particularly
                           fixing bottlenecks, replacing lifts, getting more people up the           at Pangea Pod Hotel, one of the town’s more affordable yet highly
                           mountain faster. “There’s enough space at the top for everybody.          styled digs. Burgers at Stonesedge Kitchen come with an onion
                           It’s huge,” says Morden.                                                  ring spiked to the bun. The fish and chips at Beacon Pub have me
                                                                                                     at “pine-nut panko.” Even a bowl of goulash on the very top of
                           As for the Pride festival itself this coming January, it will be scaled   Blackcomb Mountain at Horstman Hut, served in a Styrofoam cup
                           down but recognized. “We still have the week of January 24 to 31          with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy, renders me weak at the
                           dedicated to us,” says Sunil Sinha, executive festival director. “The     knees. And you can’t throw a stone in this town and not hit a plate
                           resort will continue to support the week with branding throughout         of Parmesan french fries. I experience total garlic-fry withdrawal
                           the Village and we’re planning special Whistler Pride rates for           for weeks afterwards.
                           hotels, lift passes and equipment rentals,” he explains. “We’ll
                           be updating our site continually with current information so that         When we’re not eating or posing or dancing, we are connecting
                           anybody considering attending in 2021 will know exactly what’s            with the neighbourhood in cultural ways. The beautifully designed
                           happening and what isn’t.”                                                Audain Art Museum always has something interesting going on
                                                                                                     in a variety of mediums, showcasing primarily B.C. artists, with
                           Whistler is also completely delicious                                     exhibits curated in-house or breezing in from elsewhere.
                           When we aren’t gaying or skiing, we’re eating – but I actually lose
                           weight despite the three squares a day. Skiing really works up an         A full banquet and Indigenous dance performance at Squamish
                           appetite, which we satisfy in many ways, both high end and low.           Lil’wat Cultural Centre follows a tour guided by cultural ambassadors
                                                                                                     from the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations. We also manage to hop
                            Beside the stone fireplace at the Fairmont Château Whistler Grill        on a bus one night for a trip a few minutes out of town to Vallea
                            Room, we polish off a few of Chef Isabel Chung’s regional dishes,        Lumina, a year-round outdoor light show and multimedia storytelling
                            many of which are meat-forward. In fact, someone from the kitchen        experience set in the old-growth forest of Cougar Mountain.
                            wheels a demo cart of raw cuts of meat right to the tables to explain
                            each one – a fun touch. We melt into succulent sablefish, carrot         Meanwhile, back at the party
                           “marrow” and a pan-roasted duck duo.                                      On our final day, I’m in the Aava hot tub soothing my sore legs
                                                                                                     and planning my outfit for Lady Bunny. The iconic New York
                           At Sidecut in the Four Seasons, more surf and turf ensues in the          entertainer spent the afternoon holding court at the bottom of
                           form of Pacific oysters, cedar-planked salmon and Alberta beef            the ski hill sprawled on a giant Pride flag that she then escorted
                           tenderloin. Chef Eren Curyel also has an eye for showmanship,             through town, the rest of us following behind. How does her hair
                           evident in the Long Bone Ribeye, a Flintstones-like Washington state      hold up in this weather? I wonder out loud. A man in front of me
                           steak for two. The whole dining room watches with astonishment            turns and replies, “I don’t think it’s real.”
                           as a father and son devour it in next to no time, with barely enough
                           left over for a doggie bag. The restaurant is also famous for the         Lady Bunny’s Pig in a Wig show is beyond hysterical and quite
                           Tipsy Snowman, a spiked hot chocolate confection.                         filthy, those giant eyelashes not wavering for a second as she sails
                                                                                                     through old gags and new. We move to the dance floor down the
                           At both Cure Lounge and Aura Restaurant in Nita Lake Lodge,               street at Snowball for a few hours before repairing to the Aava to
                           Chef James Olberg keeps menus modern, simple and local, the               break out the liniment. Just before passing out, it becomes obvious
                           Canadiana fare pulling in hotel guests and locals alike from cocktail     to me that my first Whistler Pride & Ski will not be my last.
                           hour onward. We pop into the adjacent Champagne Nail Bar for
                           a bubbly buff and polish, and leave feeling particularly manly.           Visit WhistlerPride.com.

                                                             DOUG WALLACE is the editor and publisher of travel resource TravelRight.Today.
                           48    IN MAGAZINE
POOF How to hit the slopes at the annual Whistler Pride & Ski Festival - and hit the après-ski even harder
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