Approximately 750 gay skiers are scheduled to visit Park City starting on Thursday for gay ski week, descending on the city two months after Utah became one of the nation's battlegrounds in the same-sex marriage debate.
The event, dubbed Elevation: Utah, is the fourth annual Park City gay ski week organized by Tom Whitman Presents, a Los Angeles firm that produces events designed for a gay clientele. It runs from Thursday until Sunday.
The organizers say gay ski week will be centered at Park City Mountain Resort, but they also mention Deer Valley Resort and Canyons Resort in their promotional materials. Events are planned at a Main Street restaurant and a nightclub on the street on Thursday while apres ski events are scheduled at Main Street nightclubs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A Saturday night event at Park City Live is also scheduled. The event's website includes a list of Park City restaurants deemed to be the "gay-friendliest."
The attendees will arrive from across the U.S. and international locales, especially Australia and South America.
"For far too long, the stereotype portrayed in the media was that 'travel' for gay men consisted of attending circuit parties, gay pride parades, and following Bette Midler from show to show," Chad Greer, the marketing director for the travel firm that is organizing the event, said in an email interview. "However, the truth is, the LGBT population consists of a very large percentage of well educated, high income and well traveled individuals and couples.
Gay ski week is scheduled as Utah has played a prominent role in the national discussion about same-sex marriage. A federal judge in December declared the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, prompting county clerks, including the one in Summit County, to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The state is appealing the ruling and won an order stopping the marriages during the challenge.
Park City has long been seen as one of the state's gay-friendly places, and the city hosted gay ski weeks prior to the events organized by Tom Whitman Presents.
A gay ski week in 2009, however, was canceled based on concerns about weak attendance after a boycott of Utah was called in the gay community once California voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage. Gay rights activists saw the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as having had a role in the ban's passage. That year's event, put on by a different organizer, was scheduled just months after California ballot measure passed.
Greer said people who have attended gay ski weeks in Park City organized by Tom Whitman Presents have not had problems.
"The attendees to all our gay ski weekends, including Park City, have felt safe and accepted with a large percentage of repeat attendees," he said. "While there may have been potential travelers who didn't inquire at all because of the court cases, that has not been a concern or presented any problems."
Greer said the organizers "absolutely inform our clients on local policies, politics, laws and beliefs held in their destinations . . . " The website calls Park City and Summit County "the most diverse and accepting region in the state of Utah . . . "
Brandie Balken, the executive director of Equality Utah, praised the Elevation: Utah event scheduled this week.
"Elevate ski weekend in Park City is another demonstration of the value of creating a community environment where all are welcome," she said in an email.