It’s Gay Ski Week in Aspen and Hooch cocktail bar is bustling.
The bar is dark and filled with the hum of down-tempo house beats and chatter. It feels less like wild apres, and more like an upscale networking event. It’s also almost entirely women.
This scene is pretty different from Gay Ski week headquarters at the Limelight Hotel. There’s no disco lights, or rainbow flags.
Allison Richman lives in Aspen. She's been attending Gay Ski week with her wife for years. She says the overall event seems to be predominately male.
Aspen Gay Ski Week prides itself on appealing to a wide range of participants, and they’ve made a conscious effort to try and include more women.
Kristi Kavanaugh is on the board of AspenOut, Gay Ski Week’s organizer, and is Vice President of Sales at Aspen Skiing company, which runs the four mountain resort. She says inclusivity doesn’t happen on accident.
“We’ve worked really hard to be inclusive of women. We’ve gone out of our way to create these women-specific events; men are certainly welcome to join, but they respect the women and let them have their space for a couple events a week,” said Kavanaugh.
For the most part, it’s working. There’s a feeling it’s important to build a community within a community.
“I definitely like womens' night specifically; I like seeing the community of people who are similar to me,” said Richman, “so every single night being out with other people like me is very important.”
Amy Denicke agrees it’s important to build a close-knit network within the larger community.
"I think that having women support all of us together is important. We’re all in this party together,” said Denicke.
The party‘s just getting started. While AspenOut doesn’t keep track of how many women attend Gay Ski Week each year, according to President Melissa Temple, expanded offerings don’t hurt.
“Our outreach is to everybody. It’s not targeted specifically to any gender; it’s just everybody,” said Temple.
Aspen Local and Gay Ski Week attendee Richman says she’d certainly like to see more women at Gay Ski Week.
"We’d like to see a higher population of women, selfishly, I think it’s important that all of us show up,” she said.
AspenOut has been making sure women show up. There’s an entire section of the Gay Ski Week webpage dedicated to events for women. There are ladies night and a couple of co-ed “friendship dinners”.
Aspen Skiing Company is an event partner and sponsor which has supported marriage equality in the past, even signing an amicus brief in the 2015 supreme court case that legalized same-sex marriage.
The events of aspen Gay Ski Week cover Aspen Skiing Company’s four mountains, something the ski company is proud of and has capitalized on as a marketing tool.
Aspen Skiing Company has made deliberate efforts as a part of its #GiveaFlake marketing campaign to have inclusive messaging, with images of same-sex couples and women prominently featured with the campaign’s signature asterisk in a rainbow of color.
Christian Knapp is Chief Marketing officer with SkiCo. He helped spearhead a marketing campaign promoting marriage equality. They’ve gotten some push back from critics wondering why SkiCo is getting involved in politics but Knapp says it’s something the company believes in. and, it’s good business.
“Gay ski week has been a huge driver for us, in what is typically a slow time of year,” said Knapp.
While SkiCo stands to benefit from reaching new markets, AspenOut, which is a non-profit - also wants to leverage that same message, doing it as a fundraiser.
Last year, they gave away over $50,000 in grants to other organizations and 16,000 in scholarships for local kids.
For many women, that’s reason enough to attend. AspenOut board member Karen Kurt says that’s just one of the reasons Aspen’s gay ski week is special.
"Aspen Has a history of being inclusive - and where people can express themselves. And I take pride in that,” said Kurt.
She explains that as a nonprofit, it’s their goal to reach everyone who can contribute to the cause, man or woman, gay or straight.
AspenOut President Melissa Temple agrees.
“It’s a very inclusive event. So there’s always something for everybody,” said Temple.
Temple disappears back into the crowded bar, passing out hugs and handshakes, celebrating what just happens to be a gathering of women, as a part of a larger LGBTQ community.