EAGLE COUNTY — When you’re in an area that has it all, there’s a lot to celebrate on New Year’s Day.
Here in the Vail Valley, that means something for partygoers, families and adventurers alike.
We’ve asked around and found activities for all of those folks. They’re divided into separate categories below, but you may just fit into all three.
We’re starting with the one we like best ...
Icy swimming on New Year’s Day is a tradition celebrated across the globe, and it’s especially popular in Russia, China, all over Europe and here in North America.
In some cultures, it started as a way of recognizing the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. In others, the “Polar Bear Clubs,” as they’re called in North America and Western Europe, are an annual challenge said to promote health, if they don’t kill you first.
Here on the Western Slope of Colorado, our winter swimming tradition has merged with another popular alpine pastime, kayaking. And more recently, stand-up paddleboarding.
Of course, if there’s a local tradition involving kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding, Ken Hoeve’s involved.
The Gypsum resident invented the “eight-ball challenge” full-contact kayaking event which caps off Vail’s annual Summer Mountain Games every year, and recently he made headlines as a pioneer of the new sports of stand-up paddleboard fly-fishing and stand-up paddleboard duck hunting.
Every year on New Year’s Day, Hoeve and a crew of 20 to 100 boaters raft the Shoshone stretch of the Colorado River, just west of Gypsum in Glenwood Canyon.
Anyone’s welcome to join, and Hoeve says that with how popular stand-up paddleboarding is becoming, he’s hoping to see a bigger turnout this year.
“I’m usually the only one on a SUP,” Hoeve said. “Historically it’s been mostly kayakers, but I bet we’ll get five or six stand-up people this year.”
Hoeve and the crew have been doing it for two decades.
“Not everybody gets in the water, people trickle in, we grill hamburgers, drink beer and celebrate the new year Polar Bear style,” Hoeve said.
The party kicks off around noon. To join in, take the Shoshone exit on Interstate 70 east. From Vail and the Eagle Valley, you’ll have to exit at Grizzly Creek mile 121 and get back on the freeway heading eastbound to exit 123 Shoshone.
Also for the adventurous type, an evening snowshoe can be both romantic, exhilarating or both, depending on what you’re seeking. Head for a high point with a champagne toast and don’t forget the plastic toast glasses.
The Vail Nordic Center rents out snowshoes for $17 per day, and as long as you return them by 9 a.m. the next morning, they only charge you for one day. For a moon-lit snowshoe, their trails at the Vail Golf Club are free after 5 p.m. Ask the staff there for recommendations of other trails in the area, including Vail Pass, Meadow Mountain or Vail’s North Trail system. From the North Trail, you’ll even be able to see Vail’s New Year’s fireworks.
The great thing about Vail’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display is it happens early enough so you can get some sleep and get out for the early turns the next morning.
And this seems to be the preference for families in Vail.
“By far the most popular of the New Year’s celebrations for families is the torchlight ski down and fireworks display at Golden Peak,” said Bobby Bank, with Vail’s Commission on Special Events.
Bank’s job is to examine Vail events like the New Year’s festivities, and he says the Golden Peak celebration is a sure winner every year.
“They have it perfected pretty well, so it’s safe, fun and well worth attending for the lights display,” he said, referring to both the torchlight ski down and the fireworks that follow.
The torchlight ski down is a Vail tradition in which skiers and snowboarders from the Vail Ski and Snowboard School form a glowing train as they ride down Golden Peak. Viewing takes place at the base of Golden Peak at approximately 6:15 p.m., and the fireworks start right after the parade.
Meanwhile in Beaver Creek, partygoers there also understand the importance of celebrating New Year’s Eve early if you plan on making first chair the next morning. Beaver Creek’s fireworks are scheduled for 6:45 p.m.
But if you’re in the mood to make a night of it, the Beav’ has something for all ages. The annual New Year’s Eve family bash runs from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. and features two balloon drops, a raffle, DJ and dancing, a photo booth and games for all ages. Admission is $40 and includes a raffle ticket and party favors. Extra raffle tickets are $5. All of the proceeds go to the Vail Valley Salvation Army. The first balloon drop is scheduled for 10 p.m., and the second will occur promptly at midnight, with a countdown first.
Once again this year, Dobson Ice Arena in Vail will be transformed into “Club Dobson” for the annual New Year’s Eve party.
DJ Logic will be back, playing his soulful mix of funk, disco, house, jazz and electronic, among other genres of music.
“I love Vail, love Vail,” DJ Logic said. “I have a lot of good friends in Vail, so it’s really a pleasure playing there and being around all my friends.”
Joining him this year will be another popular DJ, Mixmaster Mike, formerly of the Beastie Boys.
The party is for adults 21 and older and starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are available on www.vailnye.com and sold in three levels: General admission is $99 and gets a few party favors along with your entrance into the venue; Gold VIP is $249 and gets you access to the open bar, midnight champagne toast, complimentary food, upgraded party favors, private entry and complimentary coat check; Platinum VIP is $399 and gets you exclusive access to the side-stage dance area along with all the benefits of the gold-level ticket.
The Club Dobson party runs until 1:30 a.m. Bill Clausen, a patrol sergeant with the Vail Police Department, says it’s at that time that you run the most risk of getting into trouble.
“If you’ve ever been to the transportation center at 2 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, you know it can get a little crazy,” he said. “Everybody’s trying to leave, the buses are full, and if you don’t plan ahead you may experience a long wait there. It’s a good idea to plan ahead and try to get there a little early if you plan on using the bus. The designated driver approach is nothing new, but it’s also a good way to go.”
Adjustments in bus service, implemented in previous years, will be retained by the town of Vail to reduce last-minute crowding and to allow for effective service for those returning home, says Police Chief Dwight Henninger. As a result, Vail Transit and ECO Regional Transit will temporarily suspend inbound and outbound bus service in Vail between 10 p.m. and midnight on New Year’s Eve. Free outbound service by both carriers will resume at midnight with the last ECO bus leaving the Vail Transportation Center at approximately 2 a.m. The late-night ECO Transit service will be offered for free. In addition, Vail will provide in-town shuttle service every 15 minutes between the Vail Village and Lionshead parking structures from 10:30 p.m. to approximately 2:30 a.m. Regular in-town service will resume at 6:30 a.m. New Year’s Day.
Clausen says Vail’s not out to “bust” people on New Year’s Eve.
“This town wants to encourage everyone to go out, have a good time and celebrate the new year, but just be responsible about it and remember your manners,” he said. “It’s not against the law in Colorado to be intoxicated, but overservice and overconsumption is always a concern, and it’s something we have to watch out for.”
Once again this year, there will be no curfews in effect, as we’ve seen in past years, and the Vail Police Department has eliminated the late-night checkpoints in Vail Village due to the long-term success of its public safety campaign, Henninger said.
“Additional foot patrols in the pedestrian areas will be used to maintain a family-friendly environment during the holiday,” Henninger said.
Chuck Nash, with the Vail Welcome Center, said if you want to avoid the crowds at Club Dobson, then he recommends Solaris — the ice rink, the movie theater or Bol, the bowling alley.
Bol is renting out lanes for $1,000 for the evening of New Year’s.
“It’s a good way to do something active indoors on New Year’s,” Nash said.
Bol is also hosting a DJ and offering a champagne toast at midnight, with bottle service available at their tables. The party at Bol costs $250.
At Beaver Creek, The Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch will not be hosting its annual Fire and Ice party this year due to renovations in their ballroom, but as an alternative, they’re encouraging anyone and everyone to come by the Buffalo Bar that night to check out the brand new bar and ring in the new year with a midnight champagne toast. The best thing about the forgoing the Fire and Ice party this year, said the staff at the Ritz, is there’s no charge at the door for the party.