BEND, Ore. – Pride and skiing: The two words just seem to go together, right?
And in the mountains near this outdoors-loving town, that’s true in the LGBTQ+-sense of the words too.
Winter PrideFest is coming to Bend and Mt. Bachelor ski resort Jan. 30-Feb. 2, with four days of outdoor sports, social events and a panel discussion organized and offered by the advocacy group OUT Central Oregon. More than 700 people are expected this year to participate in everything from guided skiing to drag-queen tubing.
“We have seen attendance at Winter PrideFest increase exponentially,” said Jamie Nesbitt, president of OUT Central Oregon.
This is the third year of the event, which in its first year drew 150 people and last year drew 450.
LGBTQ+ winter sports events are a trend in mountain towns throughout North America. Whistler Blackcomb hosts the popular Pride & Ski Festival Jan. 26-Feb. 2, and Aspen Gay Ski Week just finished up (Jan. 12-19) in Colorado. Other Pride-ful events take place later this winter in the Okanagan of British Columbia, Park City, Utah, Telluride, Colorado, and Mammoth Mountain, California.
Besides being fun, it makes perfect marketing sense, said Kevney Dugan of Visit Bend, which supports Winter PrideFest with a grant.
“I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “We have a city that’s welcoming by nature and this event brings in a group of people who love the outdoors on what has traditionally been a slow weekend.”
The Super Bowl broadcast, this year on Feb. 2, has traditionally kept people away from the slopes.
Nesbitt and OUT Central Oregon dreamed up PrideFest three years ago as a way for the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate winter sports in Bend, a progressive city that lands on more than a few “best of” lists for its excellent outdoors recreation opportunities and world-class craft beer scene.
“We realized that we had a need,” Nesbitt said. “I reached out to Mt. Bachelor and they told us, ‘We’ll give you some discounted rates.’
“What started as a local grassroots effort in year one has quickly evolved into an event with regional and national cachet.”
Mt. Bachelor, about a 20-minute drive from Bend, is the sixth-largest ski resort in North America, with more than 4,000 acres of runs surrounding a 9,068-foot stratovolcano in the Central Oregon Cascades. It also offers excellent Nordic skiing on 56 kilometers of high-elevation groomed trails.
Why does the LGBTQ+ community need its own weekend at Mt. Bachelor? Nesbitt, who identifies as a gay male, said it’s not easy for LGBTQ+ individuals to feel comfortable in group settings.
“Growing up, I was drawn to participate in sport and outdoor activities, but I didn’t feel comfortable joining team sports out of fear of being different because of my sexuality and not fitting in or being unwelcome,” he said. “So I focused on sport and outdoor activities that were individual, such as swimming, cycling, running and hiking.
“It is not uncommon for many LGBTQ+ individuals to shy away from sport out of fear of being unwelcome, harassed or ridiculed because of their sexuality.”
Dugan said he thinks other cities will follow OUT Central Oregon and Bend’s lead and support more LGBTQ+ events like PrideFest.
“You’re going to continue to see these things pop up in other communities,” he said.
Will any ski areas near Spokane offer an LGBTQ+ festival in the near future? It’s certainly possible, said Dig Chrismer, marketing manager of Schweitzer Mountain Resort.
“It is a great community to market to and hopefully we will see more interest in Schweitzer in the years to come,” Chrismer said. “(We’re) always happy to have passionate skiers and riders here.”
Among the activities at Winter PrideFest this year:
- A panel discussion on “Inclusivity in Sport” Jan. 30 featuring LGBTQ+ outdoors advocate Pattie Gonia (@pattiegonia), an Instagram and YouTube star.
- “Wigs” – an ice-skating event at Seventh Mountain Resort on Jan. 31.
- Guided skiing, riding, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing at Mt. Bachelor on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.
- “Drag tubing” at Mt. Bachelor on Feb. 1.
- Parties, socials and dances throughout the weekend.
- Brunch and a Super Bowl viewing party on Feb. 2.
“Winter PrideFest is not just for the LGBTQ+ community,” Nesbitt said. “We welcome everyone – family, friends, allies – to join us and celebrate love and pride in our community and the beauty of Central Oregon.”
If you choose to attend, several discounts are available for airfare, skiing and lodging. Go to the OUT Central Oregon website (outcentraloregon.com) for more information.
Meanwhile, the Whistler Pride & Ski Festival takes place on the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia on the last week of January, culminating on Feb. 2.
The event is billed as “one of the largest queer-focused ski weeks in the world,” and features guided groups, a charity race, entertainment and nightly apres ski meet-ups. A pride parade takes place on the slopes of Whistler on Jan. 31.