The history of Aspen Gay Ski Week does not begin in a corporate boardroom. Nor was it conceived over champagne at aprés ski.
The largest and longest running gay ski week in the country was actually born on the dusty dance floor of an Aspen bar in the mid-70s when a local man took a simple stand: he refused to stop dancing with other men.
Little did Jon Busch know that a few innocent steps shared between him and a friend would lead to the creation of Aspen Gay Ski Week and, for Busch, become a springboard to a lifetime of gay advocacy.
Elliman Insider caught up with Busch to get the backstory on how Aspen Gay Ski Week got its start, his most memorable gay ski week moment, and how he’d like his legacy to be remembered.
The 43rd annual Aspen Gay Ski Week, a non-profit event, returns to the slopes this week and Douglas Elliman is a proud supporter for a third consecutive year.
Elliman Insider: Did Aspen Gay Ski Week really all start with dancing at a bar?
Jon Busch: Sort of. There were gay ski weeks prior, but it all came together after this. It was the 70s and I was dancing at an Aspen bar with a male friend, a local minister actually, and we were told to stop dancing. My friend stopped dancing, but I wasn’t going to stop. And then the owner dragged me off the dance floor. That was the first incident.
Not too long after, I was at a different bar dancing with a friend when the owner came up and threatened to call the police if we didn’t stop. I told him to call the police, which he did. The police came and told him if he wanted to stop me from dancing he should close the bar. So he closed the bar for the night. Probably cost him money. Eventually, he and I became friends.
“There is a sensibility here where people treat one another’s privacy with respect.”
EI: Aspen seems to have a live-and-let-live mentality, was that true then as well?
JB: Absolutely. It was true then and it is true today. There is a sensibility here where people treat one another’s privacy with respect. I moved here from Portland, OR in 1969 and fell in love right away. In fact, Aspen was the first municipality in Colorado to pass a Gay Rights ordinance, which I helped usher through using Portland’s ordinance as a model.
EI: What makes Aspen the ideal spot for a gay ski week?
JB: We talked about the culture, but also I think the privacy makes it the perfect hideaway. Prior to today’s version of Aspen Gay Ski Week, two gay ski clubs from California organized annual trips to Aspen and would invite us to their parties. One year we decided to be good hosts and throw them a party. So we planned a small gathering at The Aspen Art Museum, and so many people showed up that we were bumping into the art! And Aspen Gay Ski Week was off with a bang.
“This is more than transactional, it’s about giving back full-circle.”
EI: What is your most memorable moment from Aspen Gay Ski Week?
JB: In 1992, right before Aspen Gay Ski Week that year, the State of Colorado passed the infamous Amendment 2 prohibiting communities from passing local gay rights ordinances and invalidating those that had previously passed. In Aspen I had worked to get our local gay rights ordinance unanimously passed years earlier. That work seemed washed out. As you can imagine, this diminished that year’s attendance and mood. But, it’s one of my most memorable moments because it was Pitkin County [County seat of Aspen] that led the state in opposition to Amendment 2. It went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where it was struck down as unconstitutional. It was a lesson in perseverance.
Elliman Insider: How would you like Aspen Gay Ski Week to be remembered?
JB: I think folks should know this event was founded and run by locals. And unlike so many other gay ski events around the country, ours is a non-profit run by AspenOUT, with funds going to local grants and scholarships. Yes, Aspen Gay Ski Week has a become an important part of the local economy but this is more than transactional, it’s about giving back full-circle.
Image credit: C2 Photography