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Aspen Gay Ski Week celebrates 40 years

Jan 20, 2017

Attendees of the 40th annual Aspen Gay Ski Week attend drag queen bingo at Mi Chola restaurant.
Credit Alycin Bektesh / Aspen Public Radio

Now in its 40th year, Aspen Gay Ski week serves as an annual burst of LGBT pride on the ski slopes. It’s a time of celebration, dress-up and camaraderie. It’s a symbol of solidarity that attendees say is needed now as much as it ever was.

Gay Ski Week was started four decades ago by a group of California buddies who decided to make it a ritual to have a ski trip in Aspen. It was gay from the beginning, but not billed as such. Back then, the celebrations were on the down low and consisted mostly of dance parties in private homes. But now the resort welcomes the participants with open arms and rainbow flags.

Jon Busch hasn’t missed a single year of Aspen Gay Ski week. Openly gay in 1970’s Aspen, he advocated for a nondiscrimination ordinance in Pitkin County, and launched Gay Ski Week as an official event.

“Even in the early days of Gay Ski Week when it was just 100 people coming, we locals were more out and proud, we were the hosts,” he said.

Those hundreds of attendees have now grown to 3,000. There are gay ski weeks organized at other resorts, but Aspen’s is the only charitable event. Local nonprofit AspenOUT puts on the week’s revelries, and the money raised is donated to national causes, as well as to support local gay-straight alliances at Roaring Fork Valley high schools. 

Aspen Skiing Company's Limelight Hotel lobby serves as the aprés headquarters throughout the week. Among the shoulder-to-shoulder dancing crowd was 30-year attendee Tyler Sweatman.

Since the event’s inception, major steps toward equality have occurred, most recently the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and legalized gay marriage. But Sweatman said progress is a slippery slope.

“Will this new president throw us back 20 to 30 years? It’s always two steps forward one step back,” said Sweatman.

Today, Donald Trump and Mike Pence are sworn in as the country’s top executives. For better or worse, said Sweatman, Aspen Gay Ski Week might need to become more politically active under the new administration.

The daily dance party at the Limelight Lounge serves as party central throughout Aspen Gay Ski Week.
Credit Alycin Bektesh / Aspen Public Radio

Founder Jon Busch agrees. He said in order to ensure that 40 years from now, gay men and women will still be able to display their pride as they ski down Aspen Mountain, they need to hold their ground.

“I think it is currently exceedingly important that nationally the gay world comes out,” said Busch. “And I would even encourage Aspenites who are in the closet. Because this is going to be a real challenge. You could almost say the genie will not be put back in the bottle, but it could be if we retreat.”

Far from retreating, the party goes on this weekend in Aspen. This afternoon there is a grand costume contest/ski race down Aspen Mountain. Tonight, comedian Jane Lynch performs at the Belly Up Aspen, and there is a dance party at the Sundeck.