gay ski week

Revelers participating in Aspen Gay Ski Week are pictured in this scene from a previous year’s event. While an abbreviated version of Gay Ski Week will take place this month, the 2021 iteration will not host any in-person events such as the one pictured. 

Aspen Gay Ski Week is returning to its roots a bit this year.

In the era of COVID-19, the 2021 event is positioned to look more like the casual ski gathering born in the late 1970s than the rainbow-filled rager into which it has evolved.

“Gay Ski Week started as a very informal event where groups of people from the East and West coasts would meet in the middle and ski and have a little fun in Aspen,” AspenOUT executive director Kevin McManamon explained via phone. AspenOUT is the LGBTQ+ nonprofit that produces Gay Ski Week, which this year is slated for Jan. 17-25.

Touted as a “lighter” version of the annual spectacle, the 2021 iteration will not host any in-person events, executive producer Kim Kuliga emphasized. This includes Aspen Gay Ski Week’s signature event, the downhill costume competition at Aspen Mountain, which cannot happen this year for “just about every reason,” Kuliga quipped.

There will be a virtual version of the downhill event, as with other Gay Ski Week staples like drag queen bingo and the silent auction, plus a movie night in partnership with Aspen Film. Visit gayskiweek.com for specifics on this year’s virtual happenings.

Kuliga said it is important that attendees recognize the lack of parties and festivities this year, to the point that “it’s the exact opposite of what my marketing bones” want to do.

Still, upholding some semblance of the week was critical to AspenOUT and its beneficiaries, which consist of LGBTQ+ causes and organizations locally and internationally.

Apart from the financial aspect, hosting even a “light” Gay Ski Week allows AspenOUT to maintain its presence and brand while also staying connected with its sponsors and supporters, McManamon said.

To that, the 2021 mantra is “It’s not about the party; it’s about giving back.” AspenOUT is using this year as an opportunity to educate and remind — or even inform — people that the dollars raised during Aspen Gay Ski Week directly support the LGBTQ+ community. This message is sometimes lost amid the revelry, the event organizers admitted.

“For so long, Aspen Gay Ski Week had its own autonomy, and no one really understood the relationship with AspenOUT. In reality, AspenOUT is the nonprofit — they’re the ones doing all the good, giving money away — and Aspen Gay Ski Week is the fundraising component. And it is one in the same, it’s just branded as Aspen Gay Ski Week because that’s been a brand for 44 years,” Kuliga said.

“But this year is allowing us to educate the public, educate our attendees, educate our sponsors on all of the good that AspenOUT does and the goals that we want to continue for future years,” she added.

In a normal year, $100,000 of the total $500,000 that Aspen Gay Ski Week typically generates is distributed to said LGBTQ+ nonprofits and as well as in the form of scholarships for high school students in the Roaring Fork Valley, McManamon said. The remaining $400,000 is pumped back into keeping the organization afloat and producing the next year’s event.

Pending a return to normalcy, AspenOUT’s goal next year after Gay Ski Week 2022 is to contribute $200,000 to the LGBTQ+ community.

In addition to the fundraising component, producing some form of a Gay Ski Week this year made sense because past attendees said they would visit regardless of whether it was a formal occurrence, McManamon said.

And, as witnessed this past summer, people will still visit Aspen-Snowmass, pandemic or otherwise, Kuliga pointed out.

She called using the year to ramp up a digital platform and educate the public “silver linings” that she hopes will position AspenOUT in a stronger spot than ever. 

Erica Robbie is the editor-in-chief of Local Magazine and Local Weekly as well as the arts & culture editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at erica@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @ericarobbie.