A Gay Ski Week With a Kiwi Twist

By Dennis Hensley

Originally published on Advocate.com July 15 2009 12:00 AM ET

When it comes to end-of-summer getaways, a big gay ski trip is probably not at the top of your must-do list, particularly if you live in the United States, where summer's all about sun and sand, pride fests, and P-town. For a cool alternative with a sexy accent, I present for your consideration Gay Ski Week New Zealand, nine days of powder and parties, slopes and gropes, headquartered in the "adventure capital of the world" Queenstown.

I recently touched down in Queenstown -- after three action-packed days in Auckland -- to get a sneak peek of the 7th annual Gay Ski Week NZ, which takes place from August 28 to September 6. I stayed at the event's host hotel, the casually sophisticated Novotel Queenstown Lakeside , pampered myself with a rubdown at Aspects Day Spa and a mountainside soak at the Onsen Hot Pools , and sampled local eateries like Tatler , Fergberger , and the gay-owned Fishbone Bar and Grill .

But the highlight of my trip was meeting Gay Ski Week NZ's amiable and enthusiastic organizers, real-life couple Mike Sanford and Craig Lawson. The following Q&A took place in various locales around town, like the chic two-story nightclub 12Bar , which hosts regular gay nights, the locals'-fave coffee shop Joe's Garage , and the cozy and historic Bathhouse restaurant on beautiful Lake Wakatipu.

Advocate.com:I come all the way to New Zealand and you take me to a bathhouse! Mike Sanford: This is the famous Bathhouse restaurant, one of the leading restaurants in Queenstown, and a popular hangout during Gay Ski Week. Craig Lawson: You should also try the Lone Star , where we're having our cowboy-themed dinner during Ski Week. Awesome ribs, fantastic atmosphere. Bring your cowboy hat!

Maybe Shania Twain will show up. I hear she has property in the area. Lawson: She does. You never know, Shania might pop up. Everyone's welcome at Gay Ski Week NZ.

How many people usually attend the event? Lawson: Last year we had about 600 people attend and this year we're looking at about 700. About a third of our attendees have come before. A good two thirds are from Australia and New Zealand. We get a small amount of Americans, but we want more!

NEW ZEALAND DENNIS HENSLEY BUNGY XLRG (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.CO

I'll do my best to get the word out. Is it all men? Sanford: A small but enthusiastic number of girls come. Last year the girls took over the dance floor at the Welcome Party [ Laughs ]. And the local girls seem to come out of the woodwork for the Queenstown's Got Talent karaoke night.

What's unique about the skiing in Queenstown? Sanford: We've got some of the best ski fields in this part of the world. Coronet Peak is only a 20-minute car ride and then you've got the Remarkables, which is about an hour away, and there are another three ski fields at Wanaka. And this year we're doing night skiing, something we've never done before.

Are most of your attendees experienced skiers? Sanford: We have a good mix, from people who don't ski at all right through to the top end. Lawson: We also have instructors and, oh my God, the Swedish ski instructors? Hot hot hot! Every year I come I'm like, "I'm learning to ski again. Pick me up off the ground, please!" Sanford: As the event's grown, we've gotten more couples where one skis and one doesn't, so we're adding more daytime non-ski events.

Like tandem skydiving, which I saw on the website. Sanford: One of the sexiest things you can do, I think, is being strapped to a guy and jumping out of an airplane. There's also the world-famous Shotover Jet boat ride. It's scary but fun. Or you could do something more relaxing like drive out to Arrowtown. It's a really charming old prospector town where you can have a meal or play a round of golf.

I visited Arrowtown last night, had some delicious Indian food at Mantra and took in a flick at Dorothy Browns cinema. Lawson: There are so many things you can do. Queenstown is also the home of bungee jumping, where it all started.

I jumped yesterday at the Canyon River Swing ! I was so terrified, but now I feel quite studly.Lawson: You'll never get me bungeeing. [ Laughs ]

Not even at the "Horizontal Bungee Mayhem" event during Gay Ski Week? What is that exactly? Lawson: There's an elastic band that's strapped on you and then you have to run as fast as you can. We do it in a bar and have the bungee professionals come down and organize it. It's a lot of fun.

Tell me about the parties at Gay Ski Week. Lawson: On the first night, we have our Welcome Party at the Novotel. Then there's our midweek Busted Party where you come dressed as your favorite busted character, like Britney Spears or Heather Locklear. And then the closing party is the White Out Party, which is the best night ever! Last year we had about 400 guys.

There's also something called "The Spectacular Spectacular." Lawson: That's where you take a gondola ride up to a ballroom at the top of the mountain, a beautiful setting overlooking Queenstown. We'll have entertainment, dinner, and show. Fantastic.

NEW ZEALAND SHOTOVER CANYON X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.CO

What's the town itself like during Ski Week? Is there snow on the ground?Sanford: Usually the snow is just up in the mountains, so you can zip around enjoying the town in just a jacket and a scarf. And it's a very gay-friendly place. With a name like Queenstown and street names like Man, Camp, and Shotover, come on!

Given the state of the U.S. economy, I was surprised by the excellent exchange rate I got coming here.Sanford: Gay Ski Week NZ is probably more affordable than ever. You're saving about 30% to 40%.

OK, you've sold me! Now say some gays from North America come down but they don't know anyone -- will you guys make sure they're not lonely?Sanford: Oh yeah, we'll look after them. Lawson: We certainly will. [ Laughs ] Us Aussies and Kiwis, we love to look after the Americans!

Learn more about Gay Ski Week NZ .

Watch the YouTube video of Dennis's interview with Mike and Craig.

How to Get There The Aussie-based airline Qantas offers direct service to New Zealand from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Honolulu. I flew from L.A. in business class and the 12.5 hours felt like two thanks to Qantas's award-winning Skybed, 18 video channels, and tasty, healthy food options. A favorite memory: road-testing the built-in back massager in my comfy cotton Qantas PJs while watching Milk for the third time and sipping bottomless Diet Coke. I was a big, weepy, gay, deliriously happy mess.