Attendees of Aspen Gay Ski Week at the downhill costume contest Source: Emily Mae Photography

Aspen Gay Ski Week: Celebrating Life, Love, and Community

Dr. William Kapfer READ TIME: 11 MIN.

Eric and I found ourselves amidst the enchanting snowy landscape of Aspen last week, and my excitement was undeniable. This picturesque setting served as the backdrop for the eagerly awaited 47th annual Aspen Gay Ski Week (AGSW), the oldest annual week-long LGBTQ+ ski event in the nation.

Indeed, it was more than just a celebration – it embodied a harmonious blend of fun, philanthropy, and the empowerment of our vibrant community.

Aspen Out's AGSW: A Week of Celebration and Social Impact

In the heart of the Roaring Fork Valley, this extraordinary event unfolded – AGSW, an annual LGBTQ+ ski event organized by AspenOUT.

Its origins trace back to 1996, when it began as the Aspen Gay and Lesbian Community Fund (AGLCF). Over the years, it has evolved from a grassroots fundraiser into a multifaceted festival with the support of generous sponsors.

AGSW not only brings joy, but also plays a crucial role in funding LGBTQ+ college scholarships, mental health services, and smaller grassroots LGBTQ+ nonprofits. It stands as a celebration of unity and empowerment within the LGBTQ+ community, leaving a positive impact both locally and nationally.

Naomi Daniels, Melissa Temple, Pattie Gonia, Dr. William Kapfer

"Everyone is welcome, that's what is so wonderful about it," said AspenOUT Board President Melissa Temple.

"The entire week is about raising money," Temple said. "I have been the president for seven years, and my goal in life was to turn this around from just being what people perceive as a party to the town understanding that it is the biggest fundraiser and largest nonprofit gay ski week in the world."

Today, the growth of AspenOUT is a testament to its unwavering commitment and the immense support it has received from the community.

Anchored by AGSW as a grassroots fundraiser, AspenOUT has expanded its reach, providing support to a vibrant local gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender community through a diverse range of programs and initiatives.

Mariam T and Dr. William Kapfer at the Drag Queen Bingo Brunch
Source: Dr. William Kapfer

AGSW: More Than Just Skiing: A Week of Cultural Celebration and Luxury Experiences

AGSW, presented by JPMorgan Chase & Co., and supported by renowned sponsors like Chase, AspenX, Diageo, Merrell, and Panerai, is much more than a ski event. It's a cultural phenomenon that brings together the LGBTQ+ community and allies in a week-long celebration that leaves an indelible mark on all who attend.

AGSW presented a wide variety of events and gatherings this year, catering to diverse tastes and preferences.

These included the energetic Drag Queen Bingo Brunch at The Little Nell, sponsored by Ketel One, Don Julio, and La Crema, with the vibrant host, Mariam T., known as San Diego's crankiest drag queen.

Additionally, there were dancing and fundraising at a benefit night at the exclusive Caribou Club, Aspen's premier private club.

Each evening also featured popular après-ski events, providing the perfect opportunity to relax after an active day on the slopes.

Dr. William Kapfer at the Hermès pop-up
Source: Dr. William Kapfer

Hermès Elevates AGSW Experience with Exclusive Ski Week Pop-Up Activation

Although not an official sponsor, Hermès understood the significance of the discerning ski enthusiast audience and set up a special pop-up activation at the Hotel Jerome courtyard on the first day of the ski week, conveniently located within walking distance of the AGSW festivities.

The Le Monde d'Hermès kiosk quickly became one of the standout highlights those first few days.

This French-inspired setup, complete with games, warm beverages (including a decadent hot chocolate that tasted as if a bar of Godiva chocolate had melted into each cup), and delectable treats like freshly-shaved prosciutto and melted parmesan, all set against a snowy backdrop, offered a unique fusion of luxury and leisure, elevating the overall AGSW experience.

Dr.William Kapfer, Richie Vilanni, and Joe Nucci listen to Kevin Jennings the inaugural "Talks Like These" program
Source: Dr. William Kapfer

Inaugural 'Talks Like These' Panel Explores LGBTQ+ Future at AGSW

Additionally, during the week I had the honor of moderating the inaugural "Talks Like These" program, a thought-provoking panel discussion that was conceived by AspenOut's Lukas Volk.

This panel delved into the future of the LGBTQ+ community and featured a distinguished host of panelists, such as Kevin Jennings, the CEO of Lambda Legal; Joe Nucci, a psychotherapist from Denver Minds; and Richie Villani, the creative director at the Tom of Finland Foundation. This enlightening discussion took place at Belly Up Aspen.

Pattie Gonia takes to the slopes.
Source: Emily Mae Photography

Aspen Mountain Delights: Costume Contest, Parties, and Heartwarming Pool Bash

On Friday, January 19th the beloved downhill costume contest made its eagerly anticipated return to Aspen Gay Ski Week on Aspen Mountain. Teams of skiers descended a short way down the bottom of the final pitch, dazzling both the judges and the enthusiastic audience that had gathered near the Silver Queen Gondola.

Once again, it was a delightful experience to serve as one of the judges for this exciting event, alongside some familiar faces joining us in Aspen for the week. Among them was the stunning Hawaiian & Black Trans Beauty Naomi Daniels and the talented actor/comedian Brendan Scannell, known for his roles as Peter Devon in the Netflix series "Bonding" and Heather Duke in the Paramount Network series "Heathers." While not a judge this year, we were fortunate to have drag queen and environmental and LGBTQ+ activist Pattie Gonia (Wyn Wiley) make a special appearance on stage. Pattie G wowed the audience with a series of acrobatic moves after skiing down the hill in his iconic frizzy strawberry blonde wig.

As is tradition, the team from Snowmass Tourism once again clinched victory.

Remarkably, this marked their sixth consecutive win in the downhill costume contest, dating all the way back to their initial triumph in 2018. This year, Snowmass Tourism fully embraced the theme of "Bring it On," with most of their skiers sporting vibrant cheerleading outfits.

Moreover, there were mountaintop parties, such as one sponsored by Veuve Clicquot at Cloud Nine, and another hosted by Chase Sapphire Reserve Card at the ASPENX Beach Club.

Attendees of the pool party

Notably, the legendary finale event, the pool party, held at the Aspen Recreation Center, stood out as a highlight. It featured DJ Autumn Leilani spinning lively tunes, along with amenities like hot tubs, water slides, and even a lazy river, all of which were enjoyed by 1,000 of the week's most spirited guests.

What truly warms my heart about the pool party is its unwavering embrace of everyone, irrespective of age or body type.

In fact, it's a place where we of a certain age can splash around with those three decades younger, and it's a beautiful sight to see. Witnessing people of all generations and body shapes come together to celebrate without any judgment or distinctions is a truly heartwarming experience!

Without a doubt, it serves as a powerful reminder of the magic of inclusivity and the sheer joy it infuses into our gatherings. As I explored the week's offerings, I felt a profound sense of belonging and camaraderie that's unique to AGSW.

Attendees of Barry's workout session
Source: Dr. William Kapfer

Memorable Moments: Barry's Workout and ViiV Healthcare's IV Rehydration

One standout experience for me was Barry's popup, offering a 50-minute LIFT class focused on Full Body (Upper Focus) strength training. It felt like I was back in Chelsea at my favorite, Barry's on 20th Street, and it was the perfect complement to the après-ski activities, helping us stay in top shape while indulging in the festivities.

After my invigorating Barry's session, I had the chance to benefit from ViiV Healthcare's vitamin rehydrating IV station. It was a nod to the health and well-being of the participants, ensuring we remained energized throughout the festivities.

Having a post-Barry's IV truly added to the overall rejuvenating experience of the event. These experiences together truly made the event memorable and enjoyable.

Dr. William Kapfer and Eric Baker attending Aspen Gay Ski Week
Source: Dr. William Kapfer

Uniting in Celebration and Philanthropy at AGSW

While AGSW is undoubtedly a celebration, it carries a profound sense of social responsibility. Proceeds from the event fuel AspenOUT's numerous initiatives, ranging from Affirming Voices to educational programs.

These efforts are critical in supporting and empowering LGBTQ+ youth, particularly in areas of mental health and suicide prevention. This philanthropic aspect adds depth and purpose to the festivities, making AGSW not just a week of enjoyment but a beacon of hope and empowerment for the LGBTQ+ community in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.

"AGSW is much more than a party and unique among gay ski weeks around the world because it's a fundraiser," emphasizes Kevin McManamon, Executive Director of AspenOUT. "It has funded countless LGBTQ+ organizations, and now we've created a leadership program to make an even greater difference in the lives of area youth."

My experience at Aspen Gay Ski Week, organized under the caring stewardship of AspenOUT and led by our dear friend and producer Kim Kuliga, was truly remarkable. It skillfully combines celebration with a sense of social responsibility, embodying the spirit of inclusivity and unity.

The journey from a grassroots fundraiser to a multifaceted festival, supported by prestigious sponsors and offering a wide range of activities, speaks volumes about its importance. Even more heartening is its role in funding crucial community support programs, transforming AGSW into not just a week of enjoyment, but a powerful force for positive change within the LGBTQ+ community.

I feel grateful to have been part of this momentous event, and I eagerly anticipate its continued success and impact in the years to come.

AGSW is more than a ski week; it's a heartfelt celebration of life, love, and the enduring strength of our diverse and empowered community.

by Dr. William Kapfer

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