Forty years of fabulous: Aspen Gay Ski Week kicks off Sunday | AspenTimes.com

Forty years of fabulous: Aspen Gay Ski Week kicks off Sunday

For some, hitting the big 4-0 is a dreaded occasion.

For Aspen Gay Ski Week, turning 40 is not only a milestone for the organization, it also is a testament to its role as a pioneer in the LGBT community's fight for equality.

"There's not a lot of 40-year events out there," said Aspen Gay Ski Week event director Pamela Herr, noting its claim to fame as the first-ever gay ski week.

"We're getting stronger every year," she said.

“I think think that’s where people forget; we’re not just a party or a ski vacation. We’re trying to help people.” -Aspen Gay Ski Week event director Pamela Herr

Aspen Gay Ski Week, which kicks off Sunday, also is larger than ever, both in attendance and attention from media outlets across the world, Herr said.

The ski week's first-time media sponsorship last year with the LGBT network Logo was a game-changer for the event in terms of numbers and international attention.

"The kind of exposure we've gotten from (Logo) has really expanded our reach," Herr said, from broadcasting Aspen Gay Ski Week parties and events on national television to running promos on the TVs in the backseats of taxis in New York City.

"They've raised our event to a level that we otherwise couldn't afford as a nonprofit," Herr said. "They bought a lot of hotel rooms (and) lift tickets, they dine out, they raise the level of our parties, which in turn brings a lot more revenue for the city and the businesses, which I think is important."

The event director said this year is "off the charts" in terms of lodging, occupancy and attendance numbers.

"We have capacity issues with our events and we sold out passes and event tickets much earlier (this year) than ever before," Herr said.

As of Jan. 4, Aspen Gay Ski Week event producers had booked about $400,000 worth of rooms for attendees, according to Herr.

She noted that does not reflect how much the event draws in total lodging revenue, as many guests make reservations online or through the hotels directly.

While the bar may be raised and the numbers are higher than ever, the goal behind the nonprofit that produces Aspen Gay Ski Week hasn't changed.

AspenOUT, hosts of Aspen Gay Ski Week since 1996, grants 100 percent of the event proceeds to LBTG causes locally and nationally, particularly those aimed at helping young people.

While Herr said she believes "the younger generation" as a whole is more accepting of LBGTs, she noted a particularly high suicide rate among LGBT youth.

"If we can help these kids not feel so afraid or tormented, then we're doing the right thing," she said. "I think that's where people forget; we're not just a party or a ski vacation. We're trying to help people."

"But it most certainly started off as a party and a ski vacation," Herr said with a laugh.

Like the mission behind the organization, the event lineup also remains the same.

From Sunday through Jan. 22, Aspen Gay Ski Week will host more than 40 events centered around skiing, apres ski, dinners and parties, Herr said.

Event highlights include an opening cocktail reception at Hotel Jerome on Sunday night, a party at Bootsy Bellows on Monday night, drag queen bingo Tuesday night at Mi Chola, a benefit at the Caribou Club on Wednesday night, a comedy show and dance party Thursday night at Belly Up Aspen, the downhill costume contest at the base of Aspen Mountain on Friday afternoon followed by a party at the Sundeck that night and a pool party at the Aspen Recreation Center on Saturday.

"We don't change our format," Herr said. "It's what any average tourist does when they come here, which is really interesting to people."

For a complete event lineup or more information on Aspen Gay Ski Week, visit http://www.gayskiweek.com or download the mobile app, "Aspen Gay Ski Week."

erobbie@aspentimes.com