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Monday 08 November 2010

Eight seasons of camping up the slopes

Posted in: Hall of Fame
By Jacqui Stanford - 28th August 2010

Mike, Kitty Glitter and Craig at White Out during Gay Ski Week NZ 2009

It's just one week until hundreds of gay ski bunnies and party chasers begin their descent on Queenstown for the eighth edition of Gay Ski Week – and as the countdown gets into full swing, the excitement from the event's architects is palpable.

Gay Ski Week is the baby of Mike Sanford and Craig Lawson, a couple now based in Invercargill, who launched New Zealand's biggest gay winter party in 2003.

Sanford explains how it all began: "I started in January 2003 and after the positive response from local Queenstown businesses and reading about gay ski weeks in Aspen and Whistler I thought Queenstown was the perfect place to host a gay ski week," he says.

"With a name like 'Queens'town and street names like Mann, Camp and Shotover, you should already feel at home."

Sanford set about planning Gay Ski Week while Lawson set up base in Sydney, with both men realising that to make the event a success they needed to target the biggest gay market – Australia. It's worked, with the clear majority of those who come to the event jumping across the ditch for the week.

Eight ski weeks on and the event has become a Queenstown institution, with local businesses getting behind the boys, quite literally – with the straight Snow Park operations manager even baring his rear for a publicity campaign picture:

The cheeky Gay Ski Week campaign

While there are plenty of people who come to Queenstown to ski or snowboard, the endless stream of parties and events also draw many who suffer from 'slope-itis', but still want to be where the action is. And there's plenty of action away from the snow, from a pool party and dance parties to karaoke and bowling. This year Gay Ski Week even features a show from very, very special guests, the world conquering Topp Twins.

Sanford says Gay Ski Week as "a fun, social no-attitude event".

From 2009's White Out party
"And we have such a high return rate with guys coming back year after year. It's also great to see an increase in girls this year and a lot more Kiwis coming for the week."

That's where he gets the most satisfaction – seeing people come back. "We get stories about guys who met their new best friends at Gay Ski Week, and they only live down the road in Sydney, but had to come to Gay Ski Week to meet them," he laughs.

"We are very proud of the closing party. It's one of the friendliest gay parties we have been to and it's great how everyone has such a blast."

He also loves it when guys who on their second night come up and say thanks, because they are having such a great time.

Sanford and Lawson want to continue the 'grow path' they are on and are excitedly looking ahead to their 10th birthday in 2012. They also want to leverage their event to grow gay tourism in New Zealand.

Gay Ski Week is clearly a huge part of their life which takes massive amounts of effort to put on every year. Sanford says, as with any couple who start a venture together, they have had their "moments" and it was challenging financially in the early days, but things are very bright now. "The event is on a solid footing now. Plus it's fun to be known as the ski week boys."

When he's not tempting gays to Queenstown, Sanford is happy to chill out like the rest of us, watching DVDs and TV, spending time with Lawson and his family, including his son Bailey – who comes to the opening weekend of Gay Ski Week.

He's clearly a proud dad, of both his babies. Those being Bailey and Gay Ski Week of course.

Gay Ski Week runs from September 4-12.

For more information check out the Gay Ski Week website

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Jacqui Stanford - 28th August 2010