In 20 years or so of running gay ski trips, organisers have heard all sorts of questions, including will I get a boyfriend? and is there plenty of spa action?

But those questions become irrelevant after the first day on the slopes, Noel Smith says.

After the first day it’s all about the sport, Smith says, and the love of the snow. Everyone gets so energised by the skiing.

Organised beneath the wide umbrella of the Southern Cross Outdoors Group, SkiFree 2005 is a week-long gay and lesbian ski week with something for everyone -“ from beginners to advanced competitors. SCOG membership is not required, just a sense of fun and an interest in winter sports.

During the week an emphasis is placed on the social side of skiing or snowboarding. The group (sized about 40) completely takes over the Chalet Sonnenhof, with private use of all facilities, including a sauna, spa, open fireplace, bar and large dining room. The Chalet is ski-in, situated 200 metres from the Perisher Quad Express chairlift, and oversnow transport means no climb back up at the end of the day.

As well as private group lessons for different levels of skiers, the group meets for coffee and food throughout each day. Dinner every night is a three-course group affair, followed by different-themed parties and activities every night. But once again, Smith stresses, the bonding really happens on the snow.

We start in groups of seven skiers, all at a similar standard, he says. That becomes a core group for the week. By the third day it’s like everyone’s known each other for a year. There’s such a sense of camaraderie. Group lessons are not compulsory, but Smith says they’re a great way to get to know others in the group.

The Perisher staff are familiar with SCOG’s ski trips, and Smith says they go out of their way to make everyone welcome. The instructors might make a point of jokingly stressing their unavailability from time to time, but the skiers have never faced any negative reaction on the slopes. And on the last day skiers get a chance to show the skills they’ve picked up or perfected, at an organised race day with gates and prizes.

Accommodation including seven dinners and seven breakfasts, the race day and a welcome get-together costs $1,395. The group also gets discounted lift tickets for use on the 50 Perisher Blue chair lifts, covering 1245 hectares.

SkiFree 2005 runs from Sunday 14 August until Sunday 21 August at Perisher Blue ski resort. Visit the SCOG website or phone Noel on (02) 9810 4947 or Bruce on (02) 8399 1955 for more information. A limited number of places are available.

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