Absolute beginner skier John Howard headed to Aspen, Colorado for the world’s original Gay Ski Week to find that skiing was just part of the fun.
You know you’ve come to the right place to ski when the boys in the downhill drag charity ski race have had the courtesy to get a bit of a chub on in their little metallic shorts even though it’s snowing heavily. Now, that’s what we call attention to detail.
Then there’s the fabulous Cassandra with her big boobs and bootie out in a Wonder Woman outfit even in this weather and the people doing Rocky Horror on snowboards… they’re troopers at Gay Ski Week in Aspen, you have to give them that.
The only place to stay during this, the oldest gay ski week in the whole world, going all the way back to 1976 before the invention of ski boots, is the recently opened W, which, in the space of a couple of months, has managed to completely own the forty-odd year old event. It may be something to do with their partnership with West Hollywood’s The Abbey (‘The Best Gay Bar in the World’), which has helped facilitate their daily après-ski parties either on the wet deck on the roof (semi-naked go-gos in rolled-down ski suits that way, semi-naked men in a hot tub the other way) or in the bar downstairs, where RuPaul’s Miss Peppermint kicked off the week with an exclusive performance in front of visiting gays and locals alike.
And if you do manage to draw yourself away from the W, there’s a white party at the top of Aspen mountain (you get up there in a blacked out gondola with Bluetooth so you can play your tunes as you go) and the Miami Pool Party (which can get a little raunchy) at the local municipal pool: what it lacks in lighting concepts it makes up for in free bar and atmosphere.
And then there’s the skiing, if you ever get round to it (and some don’t! They just have long lie-ins then join the après-ski, either at the W or at the official Gay Ski Week hotel Limelight, five minutes away). With three mountains to choose between – Aspen, which you can walk to from the W, Buttermilk and Snowmass, a short complimentary transfer away (or get the free bus) – there’s something for all levels.
We beginners head to Buttermilk where we’re on the chairlift after just half an hour of tutorial and practising our stops within the hour. By day two, we’re coming all the way down the mountain on our own, so beginner-friendly is the mountain, though there are red slopes, blacks and double diamonds (which is hard, apparently) dotted all over the three mountains.
If you’re part of Gay Ski Week, you can head out with a gay group of whatever level and hang out with them as you come down the mountain at your own pace. You can also have lunch with them, in our case at the top of Buttermilk at a canteen where you can grab anything from burger and fries to freshly-made Mongolian barbecues (with wine if you think that’s a good idea). We made real friends in our ski group, friends we’re still friends with, even though we slept with some of them.
But the thing that sets Aspen apart from a lot of ski resorts is that, apart from world-class skiing (gay Olympian skier Gus Kenworthy, who had lunch with us up at that Mongolian barbecue comes from around here and is – hooray! – representing the UK in the next Winter Olympics, seeing as he was actually born in London), it’s a proper town. And a pretty swishy one.
Five minutes from the W, you’ll find sweet little streets with sweet little luxury boutiques like Prada and a pop-up Louboutin nestling alongside vegan restaurants and a full-scale modern art museum designed to look like a giant wooden basket with a top class restaurant on top.
As local celebrity Joe the Jeweller tells us, there isn’t much that’s officially gay in Aspen during the general run of the year but there’s nothing that doesn’t welcome the sisterhood with open arms, especially during Gay Ski Week.
There are nightly friendship dinners at Element 47 at luxury hotel The Little Nell, across the street from the W, and L’Hostaria and Piñons, a Disco Brunch at Aspen Over Easy, an après-ski event hosted by Visit Great Britain (for some reason!), a huge dance party at comedy club Belly Up after the LGBTQ comedy show has wrapped and a fancy party at the fancy Caribou Club, a sort of old-school members’ club that rolls out the pink carpet for Gay Ski Week…
The idea of skiing can be daunting if you’ve never done it before. I should know. Not only the actual skiing (which is easier than you think) but the getting your head around ski-passes and ski hire and getting to mountains thing. And that’s the beauty of staying at the W (quite apart from being in the middle of all the action): they sort things out for you. We were measured for boots and skis, whisked to mountains and back again, sorted out with ski passes, the works. No one’s saying it’s cheap (the White Party on the sundeck at the top of Aspen mountain was a cool $150!) but if you’re going to do it, you might just as well do it right.