Aspen Gay Ski Week is a charity fundraiser that’s great for business |

Aspen Gay Ski Week is a charity fundraiser that’s great for business

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times
Vikrum Vishnubhakta, left, and his partner Gray Melancon enjoy apres-ski at the Limelight Hotel Wednesday. The couple had never been to Aspen Gay Ski Week before but are confident they'll return.
Lauren Glendenning/The Aspen Times |

Activism is a major priority for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, but Aspen Gay Ski Week is mostly about the party.

Kevin McManamon, president of Aspen Out, the nonprofit that puts on the event, said that while most people in town are here to have fun, there’s a larger cause at the root of the event.

Aspen Gay Ski Week, in its 38th year, is a fundraiser for Aspen Out, which donates money to various gay and lesbian community causes both locally and nationally.

Pamela Herr, Aspen Gay Ski Week’s event producer, said the goal is to fund programming that supports the organization’s mission to promote tolerance, understanding and diversity through education, community action and service.

This year, even though gay marriage in Colorado only became legal recently when the Supreme Court refused to hear lower court same-sex marriage cases in the fall, don’t expect to see a lot of weddings or marriage talk this week.

“We didn’t push the marriage thing this year because it’s already happened, so we’ve moved on,” McManamon said.

The next activism mission within the LGBT community is to raise awareness about transgender issues.

“People are totally unaware of what it means to be transgender,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with sexual preference — it’s sexual orientation. It’s going to be the forefront of what organizations that have been fighting for gay rights and gay marriage across the country — the next front is the transgender community, awareness and rights.”

Aspen Out gave away $50,000 in direct grants last year, including to organizations such as the Aspen Hope Center and Aspen Film. The organization’s board meets each March to discuss how it should distribute proceeds from Gay Ski Week.

Business is good

This week in Aspen, attendees range from modest to flamboyant. The event attracts about 85 percent men, mostly in the 35- to 55-year-old age range, with average incomes of $150,000 per year – and that’s the conservative estimate.

Partners Vikrum Vishnubhakta and Gray Melancon sat in the Limelight hotel sipping cocktails Wednesday afternoon, taking in the sights and sounds of their first-ever Aspen Gay Ski Week.

The couple traveled to Aspen from New York, where Vishnubhakta lives and Melancon splits his time with New Orleans. Melancon had only skied a couple times before this trip, but Vishnubhakta said he has picked it up wonderfully. For first-time attendees just midway through the week, they were already talking about coming back next year.

“We all see each other on the mountain, at lunch and later on in the evenings. It’s a great way to build new friendships and relationships,” Melancon said.

It’s hard to track just how much business Aspen Gay Ski Week brings to town, but hotel occupancy should peak out at more than 85 percent this coming weekend.

“If we didn’t have Gay Ski Week, it would be a whole lot quieter than it is,” said Bill Tomcich, president of the reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass.

Jeff Hanle, spokesman for Aspen Skiing Co., said Aspen Gay Ski Week is the company’s largest annual group business. Some years there are larger groups, but Aspen Gay Ski Week is the largest on a consistent basis, he said.

“The demographics are a great fit for Aspen Skiing Co. and the community,” Hanle said. “This is a group that likes to ski and snowboard, and takes advantage of all the other amenities the town offers — dining, nightlife, shopping. We look forward to this group every year and we are exploring different ways to work with them on additional events in the future.”

For Herr and colleague Winston Rice, the event stretches throughout the whole year. They travel around promoting Aspen Gay Ski Week at gay pride events in places such as Chicago and San Francisco, but they’re also heavily promoting the event internationally in top Skico markets such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Brazil. “We really promote Aspen as a destination all year long,” Herr said.