Close

Member Login

Logging In
Invalid username or password.
Incorrect Login. Please try again.

not a member? sign-up now!

Signing up could earn you gear and it helps to keep offensive content off of our site.

PRINT DIGITAL

It's Snowing Men

People
posted: 11/16/2007

If it weren't for the thumping disco music, plastic neon flamingos, a crowd chanting "Take it off! and the Mardi Gras bead—decorated race officials, the Pink Flamingo charity event could be any race held on Whistler's GS course on a bluebird February afternoon. For more than an hour, about 100 spectators have impatiently ranged around the starting gate, heckling amateurs as they bang their way through blue or red gates. Some of the racers (generally those who are dressed) know what they're doing, but this is no World Cup qualifier—the point isn't to go fast, and few people are even watching the clock. Their penetrating eyes want one thing: They're all here to see some man ass.

I'm not ashamed to say it—I was gawking too. This is how it happens. One week, you're home shoveling the driveway, taking the dog out for a pee, kissing the wife good-bye as she heads to work. Maybe you hammer some nails into a two-by-four to pass the time. Maybe you do other manly things, like drink a 40 while watching Magnum P.I. reruns. The next week, you're vogueing with a hairy, shirtless man to Duran Duran—on Super Bowl Sunday, no less—at Whistler Blackcomb. Then you find yourself halfway up a mountain on a Friday afternoon, surrounded by plastic birds, screaming at a skinny man to take off his ski pants—and meaning it. At least that's the way it happened for me. After a week immersed in Whistler's annual WinterPRIDE, I converted.

Not that I slid all the way over the rainbow. I'm still a happily married hetero (a "breeder). But now I'm a staid, picket-fence suburbanite with a newfound appreciation for the gay party ethic—and a soft spot for tight T-shirts. I can't say it happened all at once. I'd spent my first few days as an undercover straight boy, a fly on the wall at somebody else's party. It was tiring being the odd man out—or not out, as it were. I'd brunched and après'd and skied the mountain with the 2,000 gay men and 600 lesbians who had taken over this over-the-top-hetero British Columbia resort town. But I'd felt like a primatologist at a monkey party, enjoying the music, nodding at the innuendos, but never ready to bite the banana, instead telling myself I was here just as an observer. But WinterPRIDE is infectious. After a few days of rubbernecking from the sidelines, there's only one thing you can do—jump in and harass the naked skiers.

A man, a Canuck by the looks of his white-as-boiled-potato legs, bashes the red course in nothing but his puffy jacket and blue-trimmed tighty whiteys. The music booms as a champ in a yellow Lycra banana hammock, a red helmet, goggles, and a patchy carpet of chest hair goes next. The half-dozen naked skiers (who get two seconds removed from their time via the Nudeness Rule) tape their race numbers to their ski poles. Comments are made about the tuck position. Nude Man Number 1 takes his sweet time positioning himself in the gate, his gluteus giving us all a refresher in the actual physiology of skiing before kicking off.

"God must approve, says Bill Wassmer as the streakers slice their way down the course. A Gay Ski Week vet, Wassmer organized Whistler's first Flamingo Open in 1995 and hasn't stopped since. "In 12 years we've never had a snowstorm on Flamingo day, and it's never been too cold for someone to go down naked.

Sixteen years ago, Whistler itself was a little too cold for a gay ski event. In the early '80s, a group from the Pacific Northwest organized an underground affair known as Heidi Ski Week. The handful of gays and lesbians who journeyed to BC were issued whistles, which they sounded to find one another on the slopes and in lift lines. They'd make dinner and après arrangements on the fly, usually taking over a bar or restaurant unannounced—which wasn't always welcome. A rock band once walked offstage when the lead singer realized his audience was mainly gay. A DJ refused to spin until the dancing men in the crowd put their shirts back on. Another b draped black curtains across big plate-glass windows so families on the street couldn't see the same-sex frolicking inside. Other bars, even to this day, simply refuse to host any gay events.

But the decade that brought us Lance Bass and the fauxhawk ushered in more tolerance—at least in Canada. Gay Ski Week has been officially sanctioned by Whistler for 15 years, and, rebranded with a fancy logo and the name WinterPRIDE. It is one of the city's biggest moneymakers. "The guys who come to this event are loaded, explains Wassmer, who watched Heidi Ski Week morph from a local party into a must-hit event on the international gay calendar. "There are VPs from Microsoft, a man who builds helicopters, and a guy who does the Academy Awards and Super Bowl halftime shows. Straight people think we're all hairdressers, but they're very wrong. Everyone spends $1,000 a day, our gold and platinum credit cards go through, and when we leave, the place is better decorated.

[pagebreak]

In fact, local bars and restaurants now volunteer to host some of the dozens of organized WinterPRIDE dinners, après events, and evening dances. Almost all sectors of Whistler's economy get a boost—there's gay dogsledding, gay snowmobiling, and gay snowshoeing trips, gay shopping excursions, gay fitness boot camps, gay cooking classes, gay gallery crawls, and even gay "toy parties put on by the Love Nest sex shop. By one estimate, the event pumps $4.57 million into Whistler's economy. WinterPRIDE now competes with Aspen, which has held the most popular gay ski week for the past 30 years. There's also the Canadian factor. Gay marriage has been legal in British Columbia since 2003 (and in all of Canada since 2005). The religious and political battles over gay rights that still flare up in the U.S. are largely settled here. "When you start with a culture where being gay is a non-issue, things can only get better and better, explains Walt Boyle Jr., who left Los Angeles for Whistler last year. "Canada is just a more mature place to be.

Well, maybe not that mature. The demographics at WinterPRIDE are a little jowlier than one might expect for a ski party, but the general premise is the same: A bunch of dudes are cruising Skiville for hookups. They're just dressed better and dance with more pizzazz than their straight bros. Dean Nelson, creative director of WinterPRIDE, purposely organizes the festivities to encourage coupling. "We have most of our singles events at the beginning of the week, he explains. "That way, if someone finds a good match they can spend the rest of the time getting to know one another on the slopes. It's still a meat market, just more like an upscale butcher shop than a supermarket case selling cheap, shrink-wrapped beef. (Insert sausage joke here.)

On the same night the Reverend Ted Haggard of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs declared himself "completely heterosexual after three weeks of intense rehab in Arizona, several hundred men still happily afflicted with "the gay are decked out in red bandannas, sleeveless Abercrombie flannels, and carefully tattered cowboy hats for the Brokeback Party at Whistler's Buffalo Bills bar. It's one of several theme soirées scheduled for the week, including the Superhero Underwear Party, the infamous Mountaintop T-Dance, and the all-night Snowball Fireball. (The lesbians, most of whom don't show up till the end of the week, like to have their own separate L-Party.) The DJ starts out earnestly, spinning the Dixie Chicks' "Goodbye Earl and Big & Rich's "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy), which clears the meek from the floor. A couple of graybeards glide across the parquet, fox-trotting to anything with a beat.

I'm at the back of Bills with 31-year-old Ryan Culver, a public relations manager and friend from home whom I've brought along as my homosexual translator and "fixer to help me infiltrate and understand this brave new gay skiing world. "Pride is like any other party is his chief advice. "It's all about drinking and sex. We're with a motley group we met at the Four Seasons the other night. We were attending the Sex, Food, and Men party. With us tonight is Jeff, a twenty-something Montanan with blue highlights in his hair; Paul, a 29-year-old Welshman with a fondness for sleeveless shirts; and Jerry, a 52-year-old registered nurse from London, Ontario. Many of the men who come to WinterPRIDE travel alone and expect to make new friends. At this early stage in the week, though, most of the lonely souls are collected around the edges of the bar with cocktails in hand. We're part of the in-crowd, but our conversation stalls out in the "Where you from? Whaddya do? phase. We pick at meatballs from a steamer tray, pound shots of Cuervo, and scout the newbies as the bar slowly packs with men.

A pair of tall, tanned boys wearing Holstein-patterned chaps and open vests create a minor buzz, but the Brokeback shtick breaks down by 11:30, when the DJ transitions into "I Don't Feel like Dancing and a fresh wave of men hits the floor. Then, as if lifted by the tide or called by some secret sign, my companions are gone, leaving me alone with an empty jigger of tequila. Ryan disappears with a pair of boys he met the night before; Jerry, a six-foot tall bald man with a goatee, is grooving with a short, shirtless 60-year-old with a handlebar mustache. His pasty body and round head reflect the lights like a disco ball. Paul and Jeff simply vanish into the frenzy.

I'm alone in the man mixer. I've had gay friends throughout my adult life. These days, my wife and I have more gay friends than straight ones. But being the lone hetero in a bar that is wall-to-wall testosterone pushes my panic button. My eyes are in freefall, looking for something soft to land on, mainly a woman, but there's just men. Men kissing. Men grinding. Men shooting pool, talking, ordering drinks, laughing. I feel what gay men must feel at seedy straight clubs—a mix of boredom, isolation, and get-me-the-hell-out-of-here. Madonna's "Hung Up comes on and there's a second rush to the dance floor. The path to the door is a gauntlet of shimmying men. "Is this homophobia? I wonder as I flee. "Am I not as open-minded as I thought? No, it's just overstimulation. It takes three minutes and 23 seconds to squeeze my way through to the coat check.

[pagebreak]

Out at the bus stop, there is no sign that the biggest gay dance in British Columbia is taking place a few hundred feet away. Drunk and stoned partyers from around Whistler Village are waiting for shuttles to take them back to their hotels. A small raven-haired girl in a white cable-knit sweater stumbles her way to the benches, falling several times before finding a pair of friends to lean on. They ask where she's been all night. "I was dancing with fags at a Brokeback party! she slurs. "They were dressed like cowboys and buying me drinks. How could I refuse?

A couple days later I meet Jerry to go skiing. It's raining, but the weather clears as the gondola climbs toward the summit. Jerry could easily be mistaken for a biker if it weren't for his easy laugh, flattened Canadian accent, and crisp pullovers. His partner of 26 years passed away a year ago, and this visit to Whistler is part of an effort to reintroduce himself to the gay world. "Herman was much older than me. He never wanted to do this sort of thing, Jerry explains. "Last night was the first time I've ever danced with my shirt off.

At home, on Ontario's icy escarpments, Jerry skis black diamond runs. But Whistler's sheer size intimidates him, and we stick to the blues and greens. At the mid-station we get out of the gondola and look around for some other men to join. "It's really hard to tell who's gay and who's not, says Jerry, eyeing a kid in a pair of plaid Burton snowboard pants. "Years ago, it was obvious, but now… I think the snow deflects gaydar. Whistles would be handy.

In farty is his chief advice. "It's all about drinking and sex. We're with a motley group we met at the Four Seasons the other night. We were attending the Sex, Food, and Men party. With us tonight is Jeff, a twenty-something Montanan with blue highlights in his hair; Paul, a 29-year-old Welshman with a fondness for sleeveless shirts; and Jerry, a 52-year-old registered nurse from London, Ontario. Many of the men who come to WinterPRIDE travel alone and expect to make new friends. At this early stage in the week, though, most of the lonely souls are collected around the edges of the bar with cocktails in hand. We're part of the in-crowd, but our conversation stalls out in the "Where you from? Whaddya do? phase. We pick at meatballs from a steamer tray, pound shots of Cuervo, and scout the newbies as the bar slowly packs with men.

A pair of tall, tanned boys wearing Holstein-patterned chaps and open vests create a minor buzz, but the Brokeback shtick breaks down by 11:30, when the DJ transitions into "I Don't Feel like Dancing and a fresh wave of men hits the floor. Then, as if lifted by the tide or called by some secret sign, my companions are gone, leaving me alone with an empty jigger of tequila. Ryan disappears with a pair of boys he met the night before; Jerry, a six-foot tall bald man with a goatee, is grooving with a short, shirtless 60-year-old with a handlebar mustache. His pasty body and round head reflect the lights like a disco ball. Paul and Jeff simply vanish into the frenzy.

I'm alone in the man mixer. I've had gay friends throughout my adult life. These days, my wife and I have more gay friends than straight ones. But being the lone hetero in a bar that is wall-to-wall testosterone pushes my panic button. My eyes are in freefall, looking for something soft to land on, mainly a woman, but there's just men. Men kissing. Men grinding. Men shooting pool, talking, ordering drinks, laughing. I feel what gay men must feel at seedy straight clubs—a mix of boredom, isolation, and get-me-the-hell-out-of-here. Madonna's "Hung Up comes on and there's a second rush to the dance floor. The path to the door is a gauntlet of shimmying men. "Is this homophobia? I wonder as I flee. "Am I not as open-minded as I thought? No, it's just overstimulation. It takes three minutes and 23 seconds to squeeze my way through to the coat check.

[pagebreak]

Out at the bus stop, there is no sign that the biggest gay dance in British Columbia is taking place a few hundred feet away. Drunk and stoned partyers from around Whistler Village are waiting for shuttles to take them back to their hotels. A small raven-haired girl in a white cable-knit sweater stumbles her way to the benches, falling several times before finding a pair of friends to lean on. They ask where she's been all night. "I was dancing with fags at a Brokeback party! she slurs. "They were dressed like cowboys and buying me drinks. How could I refuse?

A couple days later I meet Jerry to go skiing. It's raining, but the weather clears as the gondola climbs toward the summit. Jerry could easily be mistaken for a biker if it weren't for his easy laugh, flattened Canadian accent, and crisp pullovers. His partner of 26 years passed away a year ago, and this visit to Whistler is part of an effort to reintroduce himself to the gay world. "Herman was much older than me. He never wanted to do this sort of thing, Jerry explains. "Last night was the first time I've ever danced with my shirt off.

At home, on Ontario's icy escarpments, Jerry skis black diamond runs. But Whistler's sheer size intimidates him, and we stick to the blues and greens. At the mid-station we get out of the gondola and look around for some other men to join. "It's really hard to tell who's gay and who's not, says Jerry, eyeing a kid in a pair of plaid Burton snowboard pants. "Years ago, it was obvious, but now… I think the snow deflects gaydar. Whistles would be handy.

In fact, the easiest way to tell the gay skiers is to look up-mountain at the difficult terrain—most of the Pride participants rip. The parties may gather revelers in the evenings, but like straight skiers, gay skiers choose Whistler for its steeps. Each morning at 10 A.M., they meet at the Whistler light board or Glacier Creek Lodge at Blackcomb and divide into groups. Those seeking double black diamonds, moguls, or steeps outnumber the beginners and intermediates.

Off the snow, there are two constants at WinterPRIDE—dick jokes and ongoing chatter about the skiing. Even at the sex-toy party, where a big black sex swing sways in the middle of a yoga studio, the subject hardly strays from the mountain. "The snow is real heavy. I mean, my knees aren't what they used to be, declares a tall man in black jeans and a T-shirt. "This is the first year I've ever had any trouble, and the rain's not helping. He looks like an aging hippie telemarker, except for the big purple dildo and Rock Hard Power Cream on the window ledge behind him. Back on the hill, Jerry and I make an easy run in heavy snow down to the base village and call it quits. "I don't want to work too hard, he says.

We grab lunch on the patio of La Bocca and watch the couples walk by. It's been a while since my minor breakdown at the Brokeback party, and since then I've ground my way through the Ginch Gonch Superheroes party, several après parties, and a performance by a pair of bulging brothers from Cirque du Soleil. I've heckled naked skiers, and turned down propositions. I'm getting used to this all-man world. A 60-year-old Robert Redford clone and his 23-year-old lover who have become the scandal of WinterPRIDE stop in the middle of the square to argue. "They look the same, I snark cattily. "They could be father and son with that bone structure.

"Well, you know what they say, laughs Jerry. "Owners and their pets start to look alike after a while. After lunch, we head to Function Junction so Jerry can get his first tattoo. He wants a bear claw on his left shoulder, an homage to other "bears, gay men who buck the limp-wrist stereotype. Inside the Black Ohm Tattoo shop on the top floor of a mini mall, Jerry details the design he wants, but the Goth girl behind the counter tells him they're booked up until spring. He looks relieved. "Well, at least I got through the door, he says. "That's a big step for me.

After the Pink Flamingo, I'm down for the count. Trying to keep up with the vast carnival of Gay Ski Week has exacerbated the nasty respiratory infection I've been ignoring. I drink a cup of tea, lie in bed, and close my eyes. In my fever dream, I see men everywhere. They're laughing over boat-shaped plates of sushi. Smiling, tan men holding glasses of Beaujolais ski past me on the mountain. A man in a yellow Speedo and a white ski helmet mushes directly toward me on a dogsled. I jerk awake. Have my synapses been entirely rewired? Just last night a waitress was kind enough to give me a quick booby flash when she found out I was the only straight boy in the bar. Why didn't that make it into my daydreams?

That night I skip the Pride festivities and cough my way around Whistler. Rainbow flags on the streetlamps, storefronts sporting the WinterPRIDE logo, and event calendars pinned to the kiosks advertise the week, but most people, it seems, have no clue that their town is at that moment one of the epicenters of the world gay scene. WinterPRIDE may be big, but it makes a small footprint. Still, that doesn't stop teenage boys clad in trendy baggy jackets from wandering the village square calling each other "queer loud enough to indirectly taunt any passersby. The gang breaks down in fits of laughter when two men stride by hand in hand. Typical teenage stuff, but I cringe thinking about what my new friends would have felt, or even done, if the slurs were aimed at them.

It's another foggy evening, and I wander to the Telus Whistler Conferencee Center, where the night's party is being held. A tourist with glasses stops to look into the glass atrium. "Oh, my God! he says, his face up to the glass like a kid at FAO Schwarz. "Come here, honey! His wife and two children step up and peer in. "Look at that, says the father, and the family watches for a few moments in wonder. I look too. It's a familiar scene: men gazing into each other's eyes, hands grazing thighs, adoring smiles. Less than a week ago it may have been equally jarring to me. The family seems to take a collective deep breath, and the husband puts his arm around his wife's shoulders. The kids snicker. I pause and debate whether to follow them or join the party. But, well, been there. Done that. I've got the tight, cotton T-shirt to prove it and some sweet new dance moves. So I sniffle my way back to my hotel through the gray, misty evening.

the easiest way to tell the gay skiers is to look up-mountain at the difficult terrain—most of the Pride participants rip. The parties may gather revelers in the evenings, but like straight skiers, gay skiers choose Whistler for its steeps. Each morning at 10 A.M., they meet at the Whistler light board or Glacier Creek Lodge at Blackcomb and divide into groups. Those seeking double black diamonds, moguls, or steeps outnumber the beginners and intermediates.

Off the snow, there are two constants at WinterPRIDE—dick jokes and ongoing chatter about the skiing. Even at the sex-toy party, where a big black sex swing sways in the middle of a yoga studio, the subject hardly strays from the mountain. "The snow is real heavy. I mean, my knees aren't what they used to be, declares a tall man in black jeans and a T-shirt. "This is the first year I've ever had any trouble, and the rain's not helping. He looks like an aging hippie telemarker, except for the big purple dildo and Rock Hard Power Cream on the window ledge behind him. Back on the hill, Jerry and I make an easy run in heavy snow down to the base village and call it quits. "I don't want to work too hard, he says.

We grab lunch on the patio of La Bocca and watch the couples walk by. It's been a while since my minor breakdown at the Brokeback party, and since then I've ground my way through the Ginch Gonch Superheroes party, several après parties, and a performance by a pair of bulging brothers from Cirque du Soleil. I've heckled naked skiers, and turned down propositions. I'm getting used to this all-man world. A 60-year-old Robert Redford clone and his 23-year-old lover who have become the scandal of WinterPRIDE stop in the middle of the square to argue. "They look the same, I snark cattily. "They could be father and son with that bone structure.

"Well, you know what they say, laughs Jerry. "Owners and their pets start to look alike after a while. After lunch, we head to Function Junction so Jerry can get his first tattoo. He wants a bear claw on his left shoulder, an homage to other "bears, gay men who buck the limp-wrist stereotype. Inside the Black Ohm Tattoo shop on the top floor of a mini mall, Jerry details the design he wants, but the Goth girl behind the counter tells him they're booked up until spring. He looks relieved. "Well, at least I got through the door, he says. "That's a big step for me.

After the Pink Flamingo, I'm down for the count. Trying to keep up with the vast carnival of Gay Ski Week has exacerbated the nasty respiratory infection I've been ignoring. I drink a cup of tea, lie in bed, and close my eyes. In my fever dream, I see men everywhere. They're laughing over boat-shaped plates of sushi. Smiling, tan men holding glasses of Beaujolais ski past me on the mountain. A man in a yellow Speedo and a white ski helmet mushes directly toward me on a dogsled. I jerk awake. Have my synapses been entirely rewired? Just last night a waitress was kind enough to give me a quick booby flash when she found out I was the only straight boy in the bar. Why didn't that make it into my daydreams?

That night I skip the Pride festivities and cough my way around Whistler. Rainbow flags on the streetlamps, storefronts sporting the WinterPRIDE logo, and event calendars pinned to the kiosks advertise the week, but most people, it seems, have no clue that their town is at that moment one of the epicenters of the world gay scene. WinterPRIDE may be big, but it makes a small footprint. Still, that doesn't stop teenage boys clad in trendy baggy jackets from wandering the village square calling each other "queer loud enough to indirectly taunt any passersby. The gang breaks down in fits of laughter when two men stride by hand in hand. Typical teenage stuff, but I cringe thinking about what my new friends would have felt, or even done, if the slurs were aimed at them.

It's another foggy evening, and I wander to the Telus Whistler Conference Center, where the night's party is being held. A tourist with glasses stops to look into the glass atrium. "Oh, my God! he says, his face up to the glass like a kid at FAO Schwarz. "Come here, honey! His wife and two children step up and peer in. "Look at that, says the father, and the family watches for a few moments in wonder. I look too. It's a familiar scene: men gazing into each other's eyes, hands grazing thighs, adoring smiles. Less than a week ago it may have been equally jarring to me. The family seems to take a collective deep breath, and the husband puts his arm around his wife's shoulders. The kids snicker. I pause and debate whether to follow them or join the party. But, well, been there. Done that. I've got the tight, cotton T-shirt to prove it and some sweet new dance moves. So I sniffle my way back to my hotel through the gray, misty evening.

nference Center, where the night's party is being held. A tourist with glasses stops to look into the glass atrium. "Oh, my God! he says, his face up to the glass like a kid at FAO Schwarz. "Come here, honey! His wife and two children step up and peer in. "Look at that, says the father, and the family watches for a few moments in wonder. I look too. It's a familiar scene: men gazing into each other's eyes, hands grazing thighs, adoring smiles. Less than a week ago it may have been equally jarring to me. The family seems to take a collective deep breath, and the husband puts his arm around his wife's shoulders. The kids snicker. I pause and debate whether to follow them or join the party. But, well, been there. Done that. I've got the tight, cotton T-shirt to prove it and some sweet new dance moves. So I sniffle my way back to my hotel through the gray, misty evening.

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • No HTML tags allowed

More information about formatting options

Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.
All submitted comments are subject to the license terms set forth in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use
Google+