Earlier this month it became clear that Telluride Gay Ski Week — the weeklong series of events and parties held each February — was in trouble. The Telluride Mountain Village Owners Association, longtime sponsors of the event, declined to support it in 2016, and the Dallas-based production company that has put the event on for the last nine years indicated it was looking for a way out.
That’s where a group of four local residents comes in. Rosie Cusack, Doug Ford, Wendy Jacobs Hampton and Casey Nay make up the group of concerned locals looking to revive Gay Ski Week, as well as make its events more accessible to the local community.
“We have always wanted to see Gay Ski Week as a locally produced and run week of events, and this was our opportunity,” Cusack said. “Our excitement and commitment as a team to this is without question far beyond anything anyone from anywhere else in the country could have.”
All four have been involved with the Telluride AIDS Benefit in years past, and the two events have traditionally been held the same week. Additionally, Ford serves on the TAB Board of Directors.
Nay will contribute to graphic design, marketing and branding, and Jacobs Hampton brings to the table her experience as the founder of event planning company Soiree Telluride.
The new organizers hope their version of Gay Ski Week is more open to the community at large. In years past, they said, the week’s events have seemed separate from the local community, and residents have found it difficult to take part.
“We think both communities [Telluride and Mountain Village] have wanted to be involved in the past but haven’t really known how to find their way to the party. This year the whole town will be invited, and we’re going to blow it out,” Jacobs Hampton said.
“We’re trying to open the doors and make this accessible to anyone,” Nay added. “I’m excited to bring the community into this more, and have them be part of this event and grow it and expand our reach.”
Once it became clear that Gay Ski Week might be in danger of disappearing in 2016, a task force was formed with representatives from the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village (council members Sean Murphy and Laila Benitez, respectively), Telluride Ski & Golf (Executive Vice President Robert Stenhammer), Telluride Tourism Board (President and CEO Michael Martelon) and TMVOA (Executive Director Anton Benitez).
“There was a pretty broad consensus among the Telluride Town Council and the broader community that this was something that we wanted to keep in our market,” Murphy said. The task force solicited interest from local organizations and individuals who might be willing to take on Gay Ski Week.
“This group was the first, and only that I’m aware of, that stepped up,” Murphy added. “We as a task force met with them and made it clear that we liked their proposal and would like to be supportive of them in any way we can.”
Now, the local group is tasked with soliciting support from local governments, businesses, individuals and national sponsors. At Tuesday’s Telluride Town Council meeting, the group asked for $25,000 and they plan to ask for the same at the Mountain Village Town Council meeting Thursday.
The group will hold a meet-and-greet and celebration on election night, Nov. 3, at Esperanza’s starting at 7:30 p.m. Telluride Gay Ski Week 2016 is scheduled for Feb. 20-27. The group will be rolling out a social media presence in the weeks to come, and those interested can sign up to be notified of updates at telluridegayski.com.
Cusack teased that Telluride’s homegrown celebrity, Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy, who came out on the cover of ESPN The Magazine last week, would be in attendance for part of the 2016 Gay Ski Week if his competition schedule allows.
The organizers said that, despite Gay Ski Week’s importance to the community and to the local economy, the main reason they took it over was for fun.
“I always tell my friends that [Gay Ski Week] is the social event of the winter. If you can only make one thing, it better be that week because it’s the best week of the year,” Nay said. “Hopefully, with the changes we’re bringing to the table, it’ll be an even better week.”