Whistler Pride and Ski Festival promises a “gay ol’ time”. In conversation with Dean Nelson.

Whistler Pride and Ski Festival promises a “gay ol’ time”. In conversation with Dean Nelson.

Whistler Pride welcomes gay men and women from all over to celebrate diversity and to explore our beautiful mountains over eight days of skiing, riding, comedy nights, and of course, legendary parties. Whether you identify as being on the LGBTQ spectrum or just love a good performance, party, and meeting new people – Whistler Pride is for you.

Whistler Pride and Ski Festival celebrates its 25th year this January 22-29 – an impressive feat considering that when it started, the movement was largely underground, and not entirely welcome.

But a lot has changed since then, making the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival one of the biggest and best gay ski weeks in the world. We caught up with Dean Nelson, executive producer of the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival, to talk about how far the LGBTQ movement has come in these 25 years, and to highlight some of the must see events and performances at this year’s festival.

Arts Whistler (AW): Congrats on turning 25! A lot has changed in the world since 1992. How have you seen the LGBTQ movement grow and change in the 25 years the festival has been running?

Dean Nelson (DN): A lot has changed over the last 25 years especially when it comes to LGBTQ human rights. In fact, Canada is celebrating our 12th year of marriage equality. It may be hard to believe, but in the early days of Whistler Pride, gays and lesbians did not have the right to marry and be with the person they love. Last year (May 2016) the Canadian government introduced Bill C-16 that would ensure all Canadians will be free to identify themselves and to express their gender as they wish, while being protected against discrimination and hate.


AW: That’s a huge win for Canada. It’s impressive this festival has been going on 25 years and seen so much change in the human rights movement. How has the festival itself grown? From what I understand, it was met with some opposition in its early days.

DN: Over the 25 years of being out on the slopes at Whistler, we have survived the HIV/AIDS pandemic that claimed many of our friends. In the early years we were tolerated and were able to make a safe place for community to come together and connect, albeit somewhat underground.

2006 was the first year that rainbow flags and Pride banners were first flown on Village Gate Boulevard, creating a new sense of pride and ownership of the week. 2010 was a significant year for us as producers of the first ever Pride House at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. During the games, Whistler Pride dared to speak openly and honestly about homophobia and transphobia in sports. We challenged the IOC and national sporting bodies to make the locker rooms and playing fields safe for LGBTQ athletes and their support team. (Note: In December 2014 the IOC updated Principle 6 to include Gender and Sexual orientation under the protection of non-discrimination).

On this Silver Anniversary we have much to be thankful for and are excited to see we are entering into an age of gender and sexual fluidity, thereby making our community as a whole more accepting. #LoveWins.

AW: I would argue the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival is the friendliest week in Whistler. Everyone is having a blast and it seems the Village is more social than usual. How can people who don’t identify as being on the LGBTQ spectrum participate, show their support, or attend?

DN: We are very fortunate that we are now living in an era of gender and sexual fluidity. For the most part how you identify sexually or physically is not as narrow minded as it once was, in that if you identified as straight and you went to a gay club in the 80’s or 90’s, by association you could be considered gay. Today, those labels are not as strong and we are seeing more straight-identified guests coming out to our events and having a great time. We have many events that regardless of gender or sexual orientation you are bound to have a great time – if you love incredible music, dancing, comedy, and the love of skiing and snowboarding.

AW: So walk us through it, Dean. Can you highlight some of the most popular events and performances people might want to check out?

DN: Here are some of the most popular events:


S’no H’os: Whistler Night of Drag

January 24 | 9pm | The CABN, Aava Whistler Hotel

An evening of fun and frivolity hosted by the unstoppable Conni Smudge and the unreformable vixen Carlotta Gurl. Dress up or dress down, this night is all about having a gay ol’ time and dancing the night away with DJ Andes. Find out more.


INSTAGRAM_SnowLanding-300x300-150x150Snow Landing Starring Pam Ann

January 25 | 7:30pm-10pm | Whistler Conference Centre

An unforgettable night of comedy with international superstar air hostess, Pam Ann as she touches down in Whistler for a hilarious flight, poking fun at travel and the travel experience. Find out more.


WP16_WEB_INST_45-300x300-150x1507th Annual Whistler Pride and Ski Parade

January 27 | 3pm | Whistler Mountain (mid-station)

Join skiers and snowboarders swooshing down the Olympic Run on Whistler Mountain to Skier’s Plaza and then march through Whistler Olympic Plaza. Rainbow flags, colour, and excitement are the highlights of this parade where everyone is welcome to celebrate Pride. Find out more.


AW: I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about Whistler’s Night of Drag. S’no H’os sounds hilarious. People come from all over the world to our little resort town year round and specifically for the festival.What do you think makes Whistler a great LGBTQ destination?

DN: The freedom to just be. I think the community of Whistler as a whole is very respectful and hospitality is part of our nature. We want everyone to have a great time and make epic memories. Together with this, and the stunning beauty and diversity of activities at our fingertips, this destination is MAGIC.

Get your tickets to this year’s festival at gaywhistler.com

If you’re an artist looking to get involved, Whistler Pride and Ski festival is always looking for creative and talented people to help shape the festival. If you are interested, email Dean at dean@gaywhistler.com


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