Alternative market targeted
Come February, Lake Tahoe ski slopes may be anything but straight and narrow.
Giving community pride to the lake a new meaning, major plans are under way for Ascent: the Winter Party at Lake Tahoe, an inaugural ski- and activities-packed week appealing to gays and lesbians.
The Feb. 27 to March 6 party will bring out the Indigo Girls and Judy Shepard as the keynote speaker. Shepard was thrust into a national spotlight in October 1998 when her son, Matthew, was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., as a result of a hate crime.
Tahoe’s big-name lineup of acts and venues is constantly evolving, with the idea of reaching “the 19-year-old boarder who likes to party to the 75-year-old who doesn’t ski but wants to see a show,” said David Ewing, president of the organizing group, the newly formed Lake Tahoe Gay and Lesbian Foundation.
More than 700 people are expected to attend, and estimates go as high as 1,500. One person from as far away as Australia has already made his reservation.
“We have incredible weather here, a supportive community and 24-hour entertainment. We want to show that to everyone. It’s a great way to put Tahoe on the map in a way that hasn’t been served,” Ewing said.
And given the national political climate that has drawn lines on gay marriage, Ewing believes the exposure will go a long way in terms of introducing the mainstream to the local gay community and visitors who will return if they feel welcome.
“Absolutely, it’s all the more critical now. There needs to be an educational effort. The gay and lesbian community is part of the greater world,” he said.
The U.S. gay travel market is estimated at $54 billion and believed to be loyal in its vacation choices. The prospect of even a cut of that has ski area bosses, gaming officials and tourism authorities seeing green.
Ewing and six other board members have enjoyed a high level of support from the business community.
“We should put the welcome mat out. As a destination, to turn our eye or to make judgments on people would be horrible,” said Harrah’s General Manager Don Marrandino, who was speaking on behalf of the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance. The gaming group helped line up the entertainment.
“As the Gaming Alliance, we continue to look at ways to grow our market. And we thought it important to have the first one be a success,” Marrandino said.
Patrick Kaler, the new executive director for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, also weighed in on the way to market the area.
“I’m really impressed. They really have it action packed. I think it will be a great thing for the community. It’s a good opportunity for the gay community to come to the South Shore, and they’re going to leave behind a lot of money,” Kaler said.
No one would venture a guess of how much revenue could be generated. But the event has been designed to emulate the Aspen Gay Ski Week, which brings out 3,500 visitors to the Colorado town and dumps $12 million into the local economy.
Tahoe’s event features ski drag races down Heavenly Mountain Resort’s famed World Cup, tubing competitions and appearances by a “dragapella” show.
There’s the fun, and there’s the serious. The Shepard matriarch formed her own foundation dedicated to educational efforts that embrace and accept diversity. The nonprofit was selected by the Tahoe gay foundation as one of seven beneficiaries to receive a cut of the proceeds from the event. The Sierra Foothill AIDS Foundation, Sierra Recovery Center, Tahoe Youth & Family Services, Tahoe Arts Project, The Point Foundation, a Chicago-based scholarship group, and the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center will join the list of charities.
Anna Richter, grants manager of the Women’s Center, said her organization plans to use the money to fund domestic violence programs.
“Domestic violence affects people from all backgrounds – there’s no discrimination, and we do serve the gay and lesbian community,” Richter said.
The Women’s Center is in dire need of funds for the coming fiscal year starting July 1, needing about $150,000 to make ends meet to sustain their current level of services.
“We’re not expecting Ascent to fix our budget problems, but it will certainly help,” she said.
– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at email@example.com