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Sunday 11 October 2015

Gay Ski Week is ready to roll

Posted in: Community, Events
By Hannah Spyksma - 25th August 2012

Sally and Mandy Whitewoods
It's the opening day of the inaugural Gay Ski Week QT and organisers Sally and Mandy Whitewoods have had a pretty calm build up to today's launch. Well, as calm as you can get with a newborn baby and the task of rebranding, remarketing, restructuring and relaunching a seven-day festival.

I meet the energetic couple at the downtown Queenstown backpackers they run, Aspen Lodge, where Sally's doing the talking and Mandy's looking after four-month-old George. He's a cutie. Sally says they're ready to roll - the 200 welcome packs they've put together have gone out and it's action time. "The build up's been fine - just a little bit difficult when we have the little one but we've managed. Lucky we got everything organised before he came or we'd be running around like mad women."

I'm impressed - that's time management for you. The Whitewoods took on the challenge of producing Gay Ski Week qt after being roped into helping out at the 11th hour last year. After the festival ended they had a few weeks to decide whether they wanted to go all out and take over the running of the event this year. With little hesitation and some Kiwi 'she'll-be-right' attitude the British expats thought it's now or never, they'd give it a go. A month later they found out Sally was pregnant.

So have they had any volunteers working for them over what's no doubt been a hectic 12 months? Simple answer, no. The couple have managed everything themselves. Of course roles like website and branding have been delegated out, Sally's Mum has also been over from England since George was born, and they've also had a strong support group of friends to call on when needed. But Gay Ski Week qt is well and truly their second baby. Well maybe fourth, if you count dogs Audrey and Doris.

"Irrelevant of what's happened in the past we live here and know lots of people and that's probably given us a hand up," Mandy says. "Everyone's really behind us, I'm sure there's a few people who aren't and don't like the concept but that's going to be the same anywhere." When the opening party at Ballart St Trading Co. kicks off tonight they'll rope in a few friends to ticket and do the doors, and the same for the other evenings, but that's about it in terms of help.

Sally says the idea is to get the majority of things right this year so that next year's just about tweaking. They've started from scratch to give the programme a fresh look. A Rocky Horror movie night, dance parties, casino nights, Karaoke programmes, adrenalin days, and wine tasting tours are just some of the enticing options for party-goers. And while the organising process has been a learning curve, the Whitewood's say it's one they wouldn't change. "We've done it this year with a baby and a business so in theory it should be easier next year."

Speaking of baby, George has woken from his nap and is getting a little restless. It's time for him to be fed, for my girlfriend and I to get off the couch and on with our day, and for the new mum's to do their all-important grocery shop.

I've just one more question to throw their way. As long-term residents of the world's adventure capital, business women, and a happily married couple, what do they think the next week of events will bring to their community? They look at each other, then Mandy replies. "It's about breaking down barriers really," she says. The couple agree it would be nice to have a festival that doesn't have to be defined as 'Gay' but to create an inclusive society you've got to start somewhere. "It's showing that everybody's equal," Sally adds. "We're all part of the same thing - we all go to restaurants here, go skiing, go to bars - we're no different to the next people."

On that note, everyone's invited to enjoy the fabulous events they've got in store. Regardless of sexuality they say buy a ticket, come along and have a ball because if it's one thing the Rainbow community knows how to do - it's throw a damn good party.

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Hannah Spyksma - 25th August 2012