SNOWMASS VILLAGE - I had the unique opportunity this weekend to experience my first balloon festival from a private plane, riding along with festival judge Shan Stuart and volunteer pilot Stan Bialek as they monitored the Downvalley Rat Race on Sept. 14.
I can't really speak from experience but I imagine viewing the race from above was a pretty different way to watch it. It was definitely a different view of the Roaring Fork Valley. One by one the hot air balloons that were competing dropped down low and touched the ground, some in open fields and backyards and one on top of a ridge in Basalt. We flew in circles above Toby Brown, who was explaining the best route for his crew to reach him by car. Once we had that straight we returned to the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, but Brown and his crew had a few more hours of work before they were done for the day. Balloonmeister Bruce Wood, who owns All About It ballooning company, ended up earning the Carter Award - named for Jim Carter, who passed away two years ago - for making it the farthest downvalley with a certain amount of fuel still left.
The next morning was the Snowmass Ascension, and I rode in Colorado High with pilot Pat Carter, Jim's son, and blogger Toni Dash from Boulder. With the calm winds that day, sometimes it didn't even feel like we were 1,000 feet off the ground.
Throughout the weekend, I met many ballooners, including many I had interviewed and others I hadn't that had been involved with the festival since the early years. And thanks to the Carter clan, I have been officially "initiated" as a ballooner. Stuart said the ballooners were a unique group of people - well, there's no arguing that.