TELLURIDE, Colo. — As you drive into Telluride, Colo., in late winter, you’re greeted by a banner reading “Telluride Gay Ski Week: Thanks for Coming Out,” letting you know from the moment you enter the town that you’re welcome. For one week a year at the end of February through early March, Colorado’s Telluride and Mountain Village host people from all over the country for an LGBTQ celebration.
An LGBTQ party on the slopes at Telluride Gay Ski Week
For one week a year, Telluride, Colo., hosts a celebration of gay rights, drag and apres-ski
Although gay ski weeks are filled with apres-ski parties and drag, the origins of the week-long celebration are rooted in LGBTQ rights. The first gay ski week was hosted by Telluride’s fellow resort town of Aspen in the 1970s by locals Jon Busch, David Hoch, Tom Duesterberg and Russell Anderson. The group of locals would host parties for visiting gay tourists in condos, because being openly gay was not widely accepted at this time.
Around 1977, Busch got in trouble for dancing with another man at a bar, and it spurred gay rights actions in the town. In 1979, Aspen became the first municipality in the state to pass an anti-discrimination policy for gays and lesbians. Now, resort towns around the world host gay ski weeks.
Telluride’s gay ski week, which started in 2002 by Mountain Village, now brings one of the largest ski groups to the area each year. SBG Productions, the organizer for this year’s event, estimates about 2,000 were in attendance in 2023.
This year, Telluride’s gay ski week had new events, including Gay Sleigh, a horse-drawn carriage ride, and a mountain drag race. Organizers also put emphasis on gay artists and writers with cultural events such as an art walk, book signings and a fashion show. Like during other gay ski weeks, people come from all over the world to celebrate with their community and ski world-class mountains. But attendees say Telluride’s event is a more intimate experience.
“We’re not as big,” said Steve Gumble, founder of SBG Productions. “I like that intimacy of Telluride Gay Ski Week, because you make friends. You can meet people and see them all week long. You’re here to ski, to have fun, to meet people, … and who knows? Maybe you’ll find a partner.”
For many, gay ski week celebrations are also a time for healing and acceptance. Gus Kenworthy, a retired professional freestyle skier and Olympic silver medalist who grew up in Telluride, said there have been times where he feels as if he has “subsects of his life” as a professional athlete and also a gay man, but during this week, he had another opportunity to marry the two.
“It’s just amazing to see a ton of queer people from all over the country here, skiing, celebrating themselves, their identity. And, in a way, these are all parts of me. Like I’m a skier, I’m gay and I feel like to have this week here has been so amazing.”
Also in attendance was 75-year-old Dan Bolen, who came out when he was 70 and has written a memoir about his life and journey to find himself, called “The Courage to be Courageous.”
After living the majority of his life “in the closet,” a life he spent married to a woman and an elder of the Jehovah’s Witness church, he says he is now the happiest he’s ever been. “This is the family I choose to be with,” Bolen said of the gay community at ski week. “You begin to connect with people, your family, as your authentic self.”
“I feel like here is the real, authentic me,” Kenworthy said. “This is the sport that I love and the community that I love and my hometown that I love, and it’s all coming together. It’s been super lovely.”
Kenworthy also said he hopes the celebration continues to grow in attendance. Many in attendance said they felt acceptance and inclusion at Telluride’s gay ski week.
“Telluride changes your life,” said Stephen Cox, 39. “Every time I come to this town, I feel like I’ve come home. It doesn’t matter what you look like, who you love. … You’re home.”