Travel

6 Gay Ski Weeks That Will Add Some Heat to Your Winter

Get ready to cast a rainbow glow over the snow-white slopes of America's most popular ski mountains.

Shutterstock
Shutterstock
Shutterstock

While the bulk of worldwide Pride events tend to take place in the balmy summer months, wintertime isn’t entirely void of LGBTQIA+ festivals. Soon after the December holidays wrap and the New Year kicks off, gay ski weeks begin to cast a rainbow glow over the snow-white slopes of America’s most popular ski mountains. After the OG gay ski week was founded in Aspen nearly five decades ago, resort towns from Vermont’s Green Mountains to the Cascade Range of Oregon have established their own buzzy events that combine the thrill of winter sports with the coziness of après ski social gatherings, while simultaneously fundraising for LGBTQIA+ organizations and causes. Though the gay ski weeks of 2020 and 2021 canceled in-person celebrations due to the pandemic, many of them will be back for the upcoming ski season. And we could not be more ready to hit the slopes.

Aspen, Colorado: January 16-23, 2022

Aspen Gay Ski Week is the largest and longest-running gay ski event in the Western Hemisphere, and still sets the bar for all the other festivals that have since joined the circuit of LGBTQIA+ winter happenings. There’s no better time to visit Colorado’s ritziest resort town, where you can shred four mountains with varied skiing and snowboarding terrain, plus tackle miles of trails throughout the Elk Mountains primed for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter hiking. Produced by local non-profit AspenOUT, Aspen Gay Ski Week will be celebrating its 45th anniversary with a jam-packed calendar of fundraising events, such as drag bingo, a downhill costume competition, a cowboy rave, and a pool party.

Stowe, Vermont: January 19-23, 2022

The impossibly quaint village of Stowe has hosted Winter Rendezvous Ski Week for 38 years, but this year’s celebration is promising to make up for an abbreviated schedule in 2021. For the uninitiated, there’s plenty of outdoor adventure to be found in and around Stowe: Spend all day zooming down the slopes of Spruce Peak and Mount Mansfield, then switch it up with some ice skating in Spruce Peak Village, or go dog-sledding through Vermont’s perfect-as-a-postcard winter landscape. Winter Rendezvous officially commences with a bonfire cocktail reception, continuing on with a handful of rowdy parties including a “wet ‘n wild” pool bash, karaoke and drag bingo fundraisers, a live show headlined by comedian Shawn Pelofsky, and a final “Blow Out Dance Party” to cap off the weekend.

Park City, Utah: February 23-27, 2022

Pre-COVID, Elevation Utah welcomed a record number of queer skiers and allies to take on the powdery slopes of Park City and Deer Valley. While the full calendar of this year’s events hasn’t been announced yet, Utah’s only gay ski week is set to pull out all the stops with a raucous welcome party, multiple drag shows, boozy après ski gatherings, and more. The organization has partnered with local LGBTQIA+ group Ski OUT Utah to provide up to 30% in equipment rental discounts at Cole Sport and Utah Ski & Golf. Attendees have access to lodging packages, with special rates at the boutique Park City Peaks Hotel, Waldorf Astoria Park City, Montage Deer Valley, and The St. Regis Deer Valley.

Telluride, Colorado: February 26-March 5, 2022

Though winter sports pros drool over Telluride’s 147 runs and a 4,500-foot vertical drop all season, more than 1,000 revelers of all backgrounds come each year to celebrate Telluride Gay Ski Week. The whole town takes part in the fun: Small businesses around the historic town participate in a window decorating contest, the Telluride Choral Society puts on a “Night at the Opera” fundraiser”, and local models strut down the runway during the Telluride AIDS Benefit Gala Fashion Show and Auction, described as “New York Fashion Week meets Cirque du Soleil.” There’s also just as much sipping to do as there is skiing, with weeklong spirit tastings at the Telluride Express Yourself Lounge at Gorrono Ranch, après ski tipples at The Liberty Lounge, and dance parties with live music every night.

Bend, Oregon: March 3-6, 2022

Nonprofit OUT Central Oregon established the annual Winter PrideFest to promote inclusivity and visibility of the LGBTQIA+ community in rural areas like Bend. Activist Wyn Wiley, a.k.a. backpacking drag queen Pattie Gonia, is the face of the jubilant weekend, striving to bring the over-the-top nature of drag to the great outdoors. Besides top-notch skiing on Mount Bachelor, Winter PrideFest will feature drag tubing, ice skating, and several fun-filled “snocial” events.

Mammoth Lakes, California: March 15-20, 2022

Founded by Tom Whitman, the now-international Elevation brand is celebrating 20 years since its inaugural Elevation Mammoth Gay Ski Week in Mammoth Lakes. After two years of absence, California’s premier LGBTQIA+ ski event will exclusively welcome those with proof of vaccination to partake in a hefty roster of activities. Themes reign supreme during this mammoth extravaganza including costume ski races, après skis where you can don a pajama onesie or dog tag to share your romantic status, plus parties with “frat boy” and kinky “gear” dress codes. Take advantage of lodging specials at host hotel The Village Lodge at Mammoth, or at other participating properties including Mammoth Mountain Inn, Juniper Springs Resort, and The Westin Monache Resort.

Orbitz believes everyone should be able to travel freely, no matter who you are, who you love, or where you’re going. Discover LGBTQIA-welcoming hotels, plan queer-friendly trips, and get inspired to vacation. You’ll feel welcomed whenever you book with Orbitz. Travel As You Are.

Paul Jebara is a travel and design journalist, content expert, and photographer in NYC. Follow him on Instagram @paulgoesthere.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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