The masses have once again flocked to Aspen. But this week in paradise is not a typical one. The ski runs sparkle with sequins, bare-chested men dance on bar tops, public displays of affection run rampant, and everyone is, well, gay.
Four thousand visitors have rolled into town for the 22nd annual Aspen Gay and Lesbian Ski Week. And though their lifestyle is not mine, I've decided to jump into the fray to see just how fabulous Aspen can be.
The Downhill Costume Competition (formerly known as ''Bump Your Buns") has become the stuff of local legend. I watch as participants glide, tumble, and snowplow down Little Nell run, vamping it up in their finest drag. Amid the rhinestones, lace, and mascara, the Barbie Dolls steal the show. Donning blond wigs, pink sequined dresses, and matching feather boas, the queens gallivant down the slope, carrying silver serving trays of pink coconut Hostess Sno Balls. At the bottom, they toss the desserts back and forth and into the crowd, egged on by a transvestite MC named Flo.
My next stop is '80s Night at the Tippler dance club. As I make my entrance, a tipsy young man walks past and whispers, "Don't go in there." I wonder if it's a warning or an order.
Machine-made smoke and flashing strobe lights obscure my vision, but Billy Ocean's "Caribbean Queen" is loud and clear. Once my pupils adjust, the fashion trend is evident. I expected parachute pants and pink oxfords, but revelers sport baggy jeans with undies peeking above the waistline, way more Marky Mark than Michael Jackson. Some wear white tank tops, but most flaunt their ripped chests.
I try to strike up a conversation with a cozy couple standing along the bar's outskirts. Unimpressed by the sudden female company, they turn their tanned backs on me in unison. I'm starting to see why that slurring man at the door tried to dissuade me. I suck up my pride, as well as my drink, and take one more shot at mingling. As "Billie Jean" fades into a Depeche Mode number, I am amused by a topless "Kevin" who is eager to talk about his bisexuality.
"I love men and women¿I'm a horn dog," he says as I admire how bright his teeth glow in the black light. "Life is all about sex." It seems that along with shirts, inhibitions have also been tossed aside.
A few days later, the week draws to a close. I wander over to the Last Chance for Love party. I again feel my way through a manufactured fog, finally seeing a bouncing DJ spinning records on stage. He is surrounded by a circle of sweaty men and women who grind to a techno beat. (This was the only time all week that I noticed any "lesbian" part of the Gay and Lesbian Ski Week.)
The scene is reminiscent of a basement party in high school. Partygoers flirt, kiss, and sandwich each other in dance as if only a couple hours remain until curfew. This, however, is a last call for many, a countdown until the clock strikes and bags are packed the next morning.
And it's also a sort of countdown for me. I go home and mark my calendar. I missed this year's (truly) Wild West Night, and I'll be damned if I don't make it next year.
For more info on next year's Gay and Lesbian Ski Week, check out www.gayskiweek.com