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Whistler starts over with a new approach to New Year's in the village

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Although it’s not necessarily news that First Night in Whistler Village will switch its focus from stages filled with musicians to special interactive entertainment designed for families, it remains unclear how the hordes of young New Year’s Eve revellers will be persuaded to take their act elsewhere.

Because after all, Whistler is a place to party, isn’t it?

Depending on you’re perception of party, the answer is yes. But Whistler’s mayor might have a point when he says if the city of New York can have an alcohol-free event in Times Square where two million people gather each year, surely it can be done in Whistler.

"I think one of the problems is the high iron gates," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly. "I mean, kids have the thought that if there’s gates keeping them out, there must be something worth crashing on the other side. We’re only dealing with 20,000 people yet we experience near riots."

Whistler RCMP, Tourism Whistler and chief organizers Douglas and Associates, along with a small army of volunteers and a private security force, aim this year to change the New Year’s Eve focus from the relatively small Village Square, to a more crowd-friendly space at the Town Plaza Gazebo. A press release dated Nov. 14 referred to the change of venue, but not how the iron gates or "friendly fences" would play a role. Since then some have begun to fear that with access to the older part of the village unchecked, partiers might take over the area. But there is a plan.

"There will be fences but not as many as last year," O’Reilly said. "It’s more like a soft-filter. Even if people get into the village unchecked, the same rules apply: You can’t walk around with an open beer. But the idea is not to cordon off both villages. There will be a high security profile though.

"The thing that people have to understand is that you can’t come into Whistler and dump your kids in the village and expect us to look after them," O’Reilly explained. "I’ve actually seen people send their 14-year-old girls up here in mini-skirts. It’s ludicrous. We know that kids will stash booze in the village and all the sneaking-in that goes on. We know what we did in the past is not right, so something’s wrong and we’re hoping that the research we’ve done this year will correct that."

Maureen Douglas has taken on the challenge as the head organizer for festivities in the village. Working with Tourism Whistler, which produces the event, Douglas says there is one simple change people may not have realized. Douglas was busy wrapping up the Telus WinterStart Festival earlier this month when she spoke.

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