Plan ahead before the New Year’s party
December 29, 2016
EAGLE COUNTY — New Year's Eve is one of the biggest party nights of the year. Big party nights can also result in big trouble.
People arrested for drunk driving and other offenses end up in Eagle County's jail. But Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek doesn't want to see you.
"If we don't have to get involved, that's fine," van Beek said.
On the other hand, there will be a significant police presence out and about Saturday. Every police agency in the valley will have just about everyone on duty at some time on New Year's Eve.
For every agency but the Vail Police Department, that means officers in cars on patrol, looking for impaired drivers. The Vail Police Department will have officers on foot in the resort villages.
The idea behind that heavy presence is encouragement to be at least kind of responsible on a celebratory night.
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"Folks are up here and we want them to have a great time, but within reason," van Beek said. "That's the message we want to get out."
In Vail, everyone who isn't working the day shift is working the night shift, including Chief Dwight Henninger.
Henninger said a big part of village duty on New Year's Eve is understanding the weather, both for bundling-up purposes and to understand just how big the crowds might be.
This year's forecast for Vail from the National Weather Service is for clear skies and temperatures in the teens on Saturday night. That's chilly, but, Henninger said, he still expects a lot of people, mostly going from the transportation centers to bars and restaurants.
Bustling, but safely
Crowds, particularly in Vail Village, had gotten out of hand a number of years ago, due in large part to unruly Front Range teens who had come to the valley to party. In 2002, the Vail Town Council imposed a teen curfew in Vail Village for big holidays, with an edict that a family of four should feel safe walking down the street. That curfew was revoked several years later.
"It took about five years to break that cycle," Henninger said.
Vail officers these days are on hand to deal with trouble should it arise, but much of those officers' time is dedicated to talking to guests, greeting them at parking structures and, always, encouraging people to stay out of their cars.
Local transit systems will be running late-night routes on New Year's Eve, and people who drove to town, but shouldn't drive home, can leave their cars for free in Vail's parking structures until 11 a.m. New Year's Day — although that's standard seasonal practice.
Vail Transit Director Mike Rose said those who leave their cars in the structures can get coupons to get their cars out at the welcome centers at both Vail Village and Lionshead Village.
Ready to ride?
As you might expect, buses will probably run somewhere between full and packed, particularly after midnight on New Year's Day.
There will be extra buses on hand, and Eagle County's ECO transit system will provide free rides — there's usually a charge.
Adding extra buses and drivers is more complicated than it sounds. ECO Transit Operations Manager Jeff Wetzel said drivers by law can only be behind the wheel a certain number of hours per week. Adding routes means drivers can't go over their limits.
"It's a 10-day process to get prepared," Wetzel said. Planning includes talking with drivers to determine who's able and willing to work, then adjusting schedules to free up hours.
In the end, all the drivers are eligible to work, but not everyone is able, Wetzel said, adding that illness and family obligations will sometimes take drivers off the road.
Local police chiefs don't expect revelers to give that much forethought to their celebrations, but they do urge planning, with the evergreen reminder that "designated driver" doesn't mean the person who's had the least Red Bull and vodka that night.
Avon Assistant Police Chief Coby Cosper encouraged drivers to limit their time on the roads between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. That's when most New Year's Eve accidents take place. And, while Avon doesn't have anything like the pedestrian traffic seen in Vail, he urged drivers to watch out for pedestrians and cyclists who might have had a few too many.
Planning ahead is right up there with limiting your intake, drinking plenty of water and making sure to drink responsibly. Knowing bus routes or how to reach a ride-share, taxi or limo should be part of the plan before heading out.
"There will be more than enough resources for people to get home safely," Cosper said, adding, "You should also beware of what you put on social media that night."
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.