By Vivian Moreau
Aside from the midnight countdown, complete with beach balls and fireworks, Bob Andrea said his favourite moment in Whistler on New Year’s Eve was when he was buried deep in the crowd in Village Square watching singer/comedian Norman Foote perform.
“I looked around and saw two year olds and 80 year olds and everyone in between and they were all clapping, singing and having a good time,” said Andrea, the municipality’s First Night liaison.
First Night 2007, Whistler’s 17 th alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration, attracted more than 5,000 participants to festivities, about 2,000 more than 2006. Andrea attributes that to not only more visitors in town, but to hosting events like craft and youth activities indoors at the Telus Conference Centre.
“Weather hasn’t always been stellar previously on New Year’s so getting into the conference centre was huge,” Andrea said. “So many people were saying how great it was to be able to go from the main stage area outside to get warmed up in the conference centre and then go back outside.”
Tourism Whistler operates the Telus Conference Centre and donated the use of the building to First Night organizers. First Night is a cooperative event funded by the Resort Municipality of Whistler in cooperation with the RCMP and organized by local events manager, Function Junction-based Watermark.
Not having to pay for expensive outdoor tents meant more funding could be allocated to First Night programming, said Sue Eckersley of Watermark, the event’s lead organizer. With the help of nine Capilano College students, Eckersley took two months to put together the $100,000 festival that included fire spinners, local bands and entertainers, that performed between 6:30 and midnight, as well as craft activities, jugglers, and clowns indoors at the conference centre.
Whistler residents Bill and Laurie Willis were at the festivities with their children Cambria, 8, and Averi, 10. Bill Willis said this year’s First Night was one of the best they’ve attended, with well-managed gates and no lineups.
“Last year we stood in line for an hour and never even got to do the crafts they (the children) wanted to do,” Bill Willis said. But this year was a different experience with a more focused and contained festival.
“It was better because they didn’t have the whole village turned into First Night,” Willis said. “At Skiers Plaza people could still get into restaurants without having to go through First Night gates.”
And although the free ride home on Whistler’s transit system was a learning experience, as the bus the family was riding was pulled over by RCMP and several inebriated young adults hauled away, Willis said he’d recommend First Night.
“It was really well run,” he said. “(The) kids had a lot of fun and we saw a half-dozen other Whistler families there. Even all the visitors were really enjoying themselves.”