When the SnowBall Music Festival hits the quiet mountain town of Winter Park on Friday, it will arrive with some baggage. Scores of arrests over two years marred the festival's earlier bows in Avon in Eagle County.

Remarkably, it will also arrive in its new location with a much more modest police presence.

In Avon, the electronic-focused SnowBall featured artists such as Snoop Dogg and Bassnectar and brought in a young audience the town was eager to attract.

But in 2011, Avon logged 43 arrests for drug and alcohol charges and, according to police records, an alleged sexual assault in the festival's VIP room.

"There was some open transaction of narcotics [in 2011]," said Avon Police Chief Robert Ticer, "and we did not, in my professional opinion, have enough narcotics officers to address that."

In 2012, Ticer dramatically increased police presence — 24 police officers, eight state liquor agents and 17 narcotics officers. The tally rose to 140 arrests over three days for charges ranging from distribution of narcotics, assault on police officers, minors in possession of alcohol and possession of marijuana, among others.

So, citing the festival's impacts, Avon decided that the town was done with hosting SnowBall.


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Now in its third year, SnowBall is moving to Winter Park, which is preparing for the event with an approach that involves fewer cops. Headliners will include Kendrick Lamar, STS9 and Pretty Lights.

"In many ways, we are modeling what they did [in Avon], except we're probably not going to have near the number of public safety personnel that they did," said Glen Trainor, Winter Park's chief of police. "Knowing the things that happened there, we're obviously putting more ambulances on standby because they had a significant number of medical calls."

But more police? Trainor says no. And the personnel they do have on hand will focus more on emergency situations.

"You don't want to tie up all your staff dealing with relatively minor issues and thereby not be able to respond to an emergency situation like someone in dire need of medical assistance or an assault," Trainor said.

His strategy for training officers is "helping them looking at this from a service point of view as opposed to going in there like a bunch of thugs and arresting everyone you see committing a minor violation."

Avon mayor Richard Carroll said that Avon's hope with hosting SnowBall the past two years had been to bring a younger audience to the town, an audience that he said was the root of the arrests in 2011 and 2012.

"It just ended up not being the kind of fit we would like," Carroll said . "SnowBall definitely caters to a different audience than a Billy Joel concert."

"Avon made a decision, and I'm glad that SnowBall landed in another town," Carroll said.

Catherine Ross, the executive director of Winter Park/Fraser Chamber of Commerce, said the town chose to welcome the festival in order to bring in a new audience of 18- to 35-year-olds. She would not comment on the discussion Winter Park officials had surrounding the 2012 SnowBall arrests.

"It was truly remarkable, the number of arrests," said Avon criminal attorney Mark S. Rubinstein, who represented an individual arrested at the festival. "(Eagle County) is a surprisingly conservative jurisdiction and probably didn't have much of a tolerance for that type of behavior and was going to police it aggressively."

In comparison, the Global Dance Festival at Red Rocks Amphitheatre — which draws a similar-size crowd for three days of electronic music — had only 16 arrests last year, according to Jefferson County and Denver police. The Coachella Music Festival, one of the largest in the country and which draws 80,000-85,000 people over three days, reports an average of 60 to 70 arrests each year, according to Indio, Calif., police.

SnowBall's promoters were contacted for this story but had no comment.

"I don't think you're going to have the enforcement in (Winter Park) that they did in Avon," said Jerry Kennedy, former division chief and coordinator for police at city facilities, including large venues such as Red Rocks. "As long as the city is in concert with it, that should also affect the attitude of the police."

Despite Amendment 64's passing since SnowBall 2012, Trainor said public consumption of marijuana is still illegal, and Winter Park police will deal with it on a case by case basis.

Matt Miller: 303-954-1785, mrmiller@denverpost.com