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Mountain Community Divided On Whether ‘Snowball’ Fest Should Return

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Snowball (credit: YouTube)

Snowball (credit: YouTube)

Investigator Brian Maass

FRASER, Colo. (CBS4) – A Colorado mountain town is divided on whether or not to continue hosting a controversial music festival.

According to a recently released study, the three-day SnowBall Music Festival brought in $5.8 million to businesses Fraser and Winter Park last March. But, a local doctor is calling that “blood money” after treating dozens of drug patients in the emergency room.

“I hope SnowBall does not come back,” said Dr. Mark Paulsen, Chief Medical Officer at Middle Park Medical Center, in nearby Granby.

SnowBall attracted 10,000 young people a day to Fraser and Winter Park with big names in electronic dance music like Pretty Lights, and the up-and-coming rapper Kendrick Lamar. The concerts were held outdoors, in the evening hours, despite below freezing temperatures.

Dr. Paulsen says his emergency room was inundated by drug patients.

During the three-day festival, doctors treated 60 drug cases, including a dozen methamphetamine patients — the youngest just 15. Paulsen says the hospital had more meth patients during SnowBall than the entire time the hospital has been open.

“If I thought someone was going to bring methamphetamine into my community I would want them arrested and taken away,” he said.

Some patients ingested as many as seven different substances, including meth, cocaine and ecstasy. Three people were transferred by ambulance to hospitals in Denver on ventilators.

“One was so violent and so aggressive and violently out of control the only way we could keep him safe was to sedate him to the point he couldn’t breathe on his own,” Paulsen said.

Some patients almost didn’t survive.

“We had one patient that required CPR while he was here. That’s about as close as you can get.”

Despite the drug problems, SnowBall was a money maker. According to the Winter Park/Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce, the average out-of-town attendee spent $528 for the concert. Some Fraser Valley businesses like Sharky’s Grill racked up record profits.

“I’m happy they brought it,” said Sharky’s co-owner Veronica Gould, who says she had lines out the door for breakfast each morning, “I think it was good for business and I hope that they would consider it again.”

The festival was hosted on private property between Winter Park and Fraser, owned by Grant Park Development. Grant Park Marketing Director Lisa Boyes says don’t blame the event for the drug problem, blame the concertgoers.

“No one was forcing you to do the drugs. No one is forcing you to drink the alcohol. It’s all your own decision,” she said.

Boyes calls the event a learning experience but said “We would have them back in a heartbeat.”

But other communities who have hosted SnowBall are singing a different tune. The outdoor concert started in Avon, but after 140 arrests in 2012, Avon parted ways with SnowBall. Organizers approached Breckenridge next, which rejected the festival, due in part to the substance abuse aspect.

Now Fraser will have to decide if the revenue generated by SnowBall was enough to outweigh the headaches. In the chamber of commerce study, both residents and businesses were roughly split in half when asked if they wanted SnowBall to return.

Paulsen says he doesn’t need a study to answer that question.

“If you say you can come here and abuse substances and we’ll take care of that and then make money off that, that’s blood money,” Paulsen said.

The SnowBall Festival promoters would not agree to an on-camera interview. Madison House public relations issued a statement on their behalf.

“Safety of our patrons is our number one priority. We work closely with local law enforcement, who tirelessly contribute their time and efforts toward the safety of the festival attendees. We staff each event with the best onsite medical and emergency care available. We are swift and steadfast in responding to any instances of illegal behavior. Statistically, more than 99.9% of our patrons enjoy our festivals lawfully, safely, and without incident. Our team consistently reviews and amends policies and procedures in our ongoing effort to best protect our fans.
– Snowball Music Festival Organizers

- Written by Mark Ackerman and Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com

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