Starting 2010 with a bang 

First Night, the annual alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration, returns with DJs, musicians and mascots

What: First Night

When: Thursday, Dec. 31, 6 p.m.

Where: Village Square, Telus Conference Centre, Skier's Plaza

Cost: Advance tickets $15 adults, $8 12 and under; on Dec. 31, $20 adults & $10 12 and under.

This year seems to have flown by in the blink of an eye and now it's almost time to ring in the New Year. While many people will opt to go the traditional route - drinks and a countdown at home or a splashy party at one of Whistler's many clubs - there's also the annual First Night festivities, another option for people who want to do something family friendly, or are just in the mood for some good wholesome fun.

Funded by the Resort Municipality of Whistler and organized by Watermark Communications, the annual New Year's Eve celebration attracts crowds of thousands each year.

The First Night celebrations were started almost 15 years ago as an alcohol-free and family-friendly alternative to some of the over-the-top, alcohol-fuelled celebrations that used to go hand-in-hand with the holiday.

Watermark Communications stepped into the fray six years ago, taking over the execution of the annual party.

"Basically, there was the feeling that they wanted to bring more family into the core during New Year's and make it more friendly for everyone as opposed to what was happening, which was basically people gathering without any programming going on, just sort of bar hopping and such," said Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark.

"It was a real way of sort of setting the tone for the community on New Year's Eve."

This year's lineup includes a few repeat performers - the Fire Moths, Mat the Alien, and juggler, Matt Levy.

"Mat the Alien is sort of a fixture for us at New Year's in Whistler - I mean, he's always voted Whistler's best DJ."

But there are also a couple of new additions to the lineup this year, with Joe Roncetti, a talented acoustic musician, and Scatterheart, an energetic rock group, stepping into the spotlight on the Main Stage in Village Square to perform.

People can also opt to keep nice and toasty by partaking in some of the kids programming in the Telus Conference Centre, where a roster of performers will entertain the crowds starting at 6:30 p.m. Kids aged two to 12 can take in the juggling talents of Matt Levy, get artistic at the crafting stations, watch as the mascots face-off, and take part in storytelling and sing-along sets. Then, they'll countdown to 2010 at 9 p.m., so parents can get them off to bed at a reasonable hour.

Kids aged 13 to 19 can head to a parent-free zone in the conference centre, where they can play pool, foosball and poker, or dance the night away at the Much Music Dance Party.

In Skiers' Plaza at 6:30 p.m., Whistler Blackcomb puts on an amped-up version of its weekly Fire & Ice show, featuring skiers and snowboarders pulling tricks and fire spinners amazing the audience while DJs provide the tunes.

Last year, Watermark had the iconic Canadian rock group Spirit of the West headlining the entertainment roster. But this year, the municipality asked that they cut costs a bit.

"It's just basically a little bit of entertainment and sort of tightening the belts here and there," Eckersley said. "...I thought it was a very responsible move on the RMOW's part to ask me what we could do to decrease the costs a little bit."

But the budget cuts clearly haven't hampered organizers' ability to put together a solid lineup.

"We're looking forward to it, obviously kicking off a big year for Whistler and we think we'll do it in style!"

Though the event is designed for residents and visitors, it tends to draw more out-of-town guests than residents. To help encourage more locals to come out for the First Night experience, elementary school students are given free tickets, which may make the event more affordable for local families.

The largest First Night attendance to date has been about 7,500 people, but this year with accomodation numbers down and with the holiday falling on a Thursday, they're expecting to draw about 6,000 people to the festivities.

While First Night activities and entertainment aren't free, they definitely offer a more affordable alternative to the parties at bars and clubs, with advance tickets selling for $15 for adults, $8 for children under the age of 12, and kids two and under getting in for free. You can still purchase tickets the day of, though the prices go up to $20 for adults and $10 for kids.

Advance tickets are available at the Whistler Holiday Experience, Tourism Whistler activity centre, Whistler Village Info Centre, and the Meadow Park Sports Centre, or online at

If you're planning a less-than sober evening to ring in 2010, local bars and clubs have lots of options to keep everyone entertained. Check out page 113/114 for ideas on how to spend the last night of 2009.



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