Most anybody in the LGBTQ+ community is familiar with a typical Pride festival and march. Where thousands of LGBTQ+ come together and celebrate the accomplishments made toward LGBTQ+ visibility, education and equality. Most Pride festivals typically are the same, starting with a festival of bunch of vendors representing local LGBTQ+ businesses and clubs as well as others, there are drag shows, dances, and other events. Aspen Gay Ski Week is hardly a traditional pride festival, and that’s what makes it such a remarkable event.
While there are many “gay ski weeks” happening all throughout the winter in North America. All over the Rockies to the best resorts in Canada. It is no secret that hosting a gay ski week is an economic powerhouse for ski resorts to cash in on the pink dollar and show off their inclusiveness for the LGBTQ+ Community. But Aspen Gay Ski Week is where it all started, and just like Christopher Street Liberation Day, had its roots in activism toward furthering the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and the community.
Started by a bunch of gay friends and tourists who happened to be skiing in Aspen in the mid-1970s, they came together and decided to set a week every January that they would all meet up in Aspen for a fun, gay ski vacation. In addition to skiing, the core group of friends would take turn hosting a welcoming party, which was the only party at the time and invited different ski clubs from around the USA to join in, with the annual event growing every year.
In 1977, Jon Busch a local resident of Aspen and core group that founded gay ski week got in trouble at a local bar for dancing with another man. With the Stonewall Riots having occurred only 8 years before, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights had not quite made its way to the rural communities of the Rocky Mountains. As a result, Jon Busch and other local gay residents had pushed for the city to adopt a gay rights ordinance that (among other things) made it legal for same sex dancing in businesses and public spaces. Thanks to their efforts, Aspen was the first city in Colorado to adopt such a landmark piece of legislation with Denver and other cities shortly following.
Aspen Gay Ski Week, continued to grow and as a non-profit event was still an informal gathering of LGBTQ+ ski enthusiasts taking over the slopes of Aspen. In 1992, Colorado passed “Amendment 2” spearheaded by conservative and religious groups, which voided all previous LGBTQ+ inclusive legislation on the city and state level in Colorado. In addition, it prevented cities and the state from adopting any new LGBTQ+ inclusive legislation. The outrage against Amendment 2 became a national debate, from politicians to Hollywood celebrities taking part in the discussion. Back in Colorado however, the fight to live open and proud, once again had found its way to the slopes.
Because of Amendment 2 passing, the national LGBTQ+ Community flexed its economic muscle by boycotting Colorado tourism and that included Aspen Gay Ski Week. Resort owners and local businesses in Aspen had come to depend on the business that LGBTQ+ people, with a lot of disposable income, would bring to their communities. The boycott was widely successful as Aspen businesses and Aspen Gay Ski Week suffered a significant loss of business as a result, in addition it opened the door for other for-profit gay ski weeks to fill that void in other parts of the nation that were more LGBTQ+ inclusive.
Thanks to the boycott, business leaders in Aspen, Denver, and Boulder, many of them straight, came together to file a constitutional challenge to Amendment 2 (Romer vs. Evans) and won with Amendment 2 being declared as “Unconstitutional.” Which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, making it a landmark case for LGBTQ+ rights and the first such ruling since 1986. This landmark ruling set the standard and paved the way for other constitutional challenges of anti-LGBTQ legislation and set the stage for major LGBTQ+ achievements in the USA such as Marriage Equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
While it took a few years for Aspen Gay Ski Week to recover from the boycott of Colorado tourism and despite competition from for-profit Gay Ski Weeks it has once again risen to be one of the biggest and most popular gay ski weeks in North America. Aspen Gay Ski Week officially incorporated itself as a 501c3 known as the Aspen Gay and Lesbian Community Fund (now the Roaring Fork Gay and Lesbian Community Fund) which uses Aspen Gay Ski Week as a fundraiser to support local and national LGBTQ+ charitie and non-profit organizations, including One Colorado, Trevor Project, Human Rights Campaign, GLSEN Colorado, Point Foundation and TEACH.
Within its roots, Aspen Gay Ski Week is about LGBTQ+ friends coming together to have a fun week of skiing and dancing without fear of discrimination, even as the event has grown, fought for LGBTQ+ rights and become one of the largest LGBTQ+ fundraisers in the state. It’s always been about bringing people together for skiing and having fun.
By Dirk Smith