LGBT, Tourism Industry Leader
IMAGES BY JOERN ROHDE
Name: DEAN NELSON
Occupation: CEO, Executive Producer, GayWhistler.com and Whistler Pride
At the age of 7 or 8, Dean Nelson knew he was “different” from most other boys, but didn’t tell his parents. He was still “very ambiguous” about his sexuality until 1993, while he was working at the then-new Holiday Inn Sunspree in Whistler, one of the sponsors of what was called Altitude at the time, a.k.a. Gay Ski Week. After coming “out” around that time, he started helping at some of the events. With the festival in need of rescuing, he and a group of friends took a leap of faith by taking over in 2006. Growing into more than just skiing and partying — Whistler Pride (Jan. 21 to 28, 2018) includes a wide range of entertainment, charitable, health and wellness, and culinary events. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, Nelson helped establish Pride Houses in Vancouver and Whistler, welcoming spaces for LGBTQ athletes, coaches and Games supporters. In 2016, his activism earned him a human rights leadership award from his alma mater, Thompson Rivers University (TRU); and in June 2017, Travel Gay Canada named him LGBT Tourism Leader of the Year.
When did you first come to Whistler? What attracted you to the resort, and why did you decide to stay?
I sashayed my way up to Whistler way back in October 1992, when I was offered a junior manager role with the brand-new Holiday Inn Sunspree.
I was fresh out of my Resort Hotel Management program at TRU and eager to put my passion and skills to work. Whistler is a very infectious place. Just as you start to tire of the winter season, that sweet smell of spring quickly intoxicates you into submission with all the exciting spring and summer activities at your fingertips. Then summer starts to fade, and there is that crispness in the mountain air, a light glitter in the atmosphere and the moon glows in an exotic rainbow. Winter is coming, and daydreams of big epic pow days begin. How could I possibly leave?
How did you become involved with Gay Ski Week/Whistler Pride?
I was introduced to the annual Gay Ski Week by the original founder Brent Benaschak back in 1993 as a hotel partner. As I became more comfortable with my sexuality, I became a member of the local LGBTQ Ski Club, skiOUT, and started to help Peter Diniz with some of the social events. In 2006 when the annual Gay Ski Week was in jeopardy of being cancelled, a group of us banded together and devised a rescue plan to save the event. It was just too important to the resort and to the LGBTQ community to let it just die. So, I jumped in with both feet and have been leading the charge since.
What are some of the reasons it has been and continues to be so successful?
I think why Whistler Pride continues to be the leading Gay Ski Week on the planet is the programming continues to evolve with our audience. As the festival ages, so do our festival attendees. What was important a decade ago is not as relevant today. We are doing more social programming like our Game Night and select culinary events. The Ski Guide Program continues to be the best in the world as our guides are passionate about our mountains, our festival and resort community.
What are you favourite Whistler winter activities?
Cat skiing with Powder Mountain Cat Skiing (Well, I snowboard, so Cat Snowboarding!). I just love the big open spaces and the big untracked pow! Otherwise, I just love having down time at the Scandinave Spa. The setting is incredible and is perfect for nurturing your soul.
What are your favourite ski runs?
Without a doubt Peak to Creek/Big Timber on a big snow day all the way to the valley!
What are your favourite Whistler hangouts?
The Bearfoot Bistro is always high on my list. It is the place to celebrate! The Dubh Linn Gate is also another one of my favourites … great service and love the live music. It always feels like home.