English-born Queenstown movers and shakers Sally and Mandy Whitewoods manage a 24/7 business and a baby. They spoke with Jenny Rankine about their lives, Gay Ski Week QT , and Aspen Lodge Hostel. Edited from the full article in TMLN
Mandy and Sally had lived in Queenstown and worked in various tourism businessed when the opportunity to by Aspen Lodge hostel came up. “Mandy was already managing it, so we knew where we could change things.
“In 2005 Queenstown was the first place that I felt comfortable walking down the street holding hands with Mandy. Other places round New Zealand or in England weren’t the same.” There wasn’t much of a gay community in Queenstown when they arrived. There are no gay bars or regular groups, just friends who get together sometimes. “Everyone is gay friendly, no one judges,” says Sally.
The couple had a civil union on October 2009, amalgamated their surnames to Whitewoods and “will get married if we can”.
The couple had always gone to events in the annual Gay Ski Week. “We were the only females that ever went; it was always very male oriented. We wanted to take it on if it became an option; when it went into liquidation, we decided to go for it. We rebranded to Gay Ski Week QT rather than Gay Ski Week NZ, and started from scratch.”
They had decided they wanted a baby in 2009. “Two months after we’d decided to run GSW, we found out I was pregnant as well.” George was born in April 2012. “I was quite ill when I had him, and couldn’t do as much organising.”
“The Queenstown local press wanted us to do a big spread about it, but we wanted to keep George private. Running businesses, before you know it you have no personal life. We decided that our little man would be a separate thing altogether.”
A quarter of their first GSW participants – around 150 – were female, “which is huge for our first year and much nicer than just me and Mandy. They were a mix of Kiwis, a lot of Australians, and a few from further afield. I love marketing and I’m happy to learn as I go, which is definitely what I’ve been doing,” says Sally.
As well as the gay media, they advertise in LOTL, the Sydney lesbian magazine, and Curve in America, and because their news releases feature women equally with men, they get picked up by lesbian media.
Gay Ski Week QT week runs from the last Saturday of August every year – this year Saturday 31 to September 7. The pair will ask women this year whether they’re keen for a women’s event next year.
Sally would like the event to be as big as the Winter Festival. “Even if you’re straight and have gay friends you can come; it’s important to break down barriers. We had a few straight people last year, and there was no hassle.”
Juggling 13-hour hostel days, another business and a baby leaves the pair with little time off. “We don’t get many breaks. I love walks with the dogs, or going south for the weekend. We take the dogs down to the Catlins – no cell phone coverage is always a winner.” They have two border collie heading dogs.
“George is very easy, quite chilled out. His grandparents are all back in the UK. I skype every other day to the UK and he sits with me babbling and waving to his nanna. It makes everything so much nearer when you can interact and see them. We haven’t been back for two years; it might have to be every three years with the little one.”
“We did think about more kids, but I didn’t think I could cope with the businesses, so we agreed to stick with one. In the long term we will let the hostel go; it has a time limit for our sanity because it’s 24/7. It takes a bit of a toll. When George is a little older we’d like to do a little more travelling.”