Response to Snowmass event changes mixed | AspenTimes.com

Response to Snowmass event changes mixed

Jill Beathard
Snowmass Sun

Changes in last weekend's Snowmass Balloon and Wine festivals sparked mixed reactions among attendees and local businesspeople.

The Snowmass Village Rotary Club chose to hold its annual wine fundraiser in Town Park this year, where there is more space and more people were able to attend, allowing it to raise a record amount for charity this year. To offset the loss of traffic to the commercial core, Balloon Festival organizers moved the Night Glow on Sept. 14 from Town Park to Fanny Hill, which produced complaints from some longtime locals but profits for many mall and Base Village merchants.

Balloon events scheduled for the mornings of Sept. 13 and 14 were canceled because of inclement weather. Organizers received word that another storm might move in during the Night Glow, so they decided to light up the torches as balloonists started arriving at 6 p.m., even though the pilots only had staff and supplies to glow for an hour, said Dave Elkan, special events contractor for Snowmass Tourism. That meant the glow was over before sunset.

"It's hard enough to get your kids packed up and into the car only to get there and there be like two or three balloons lit up," said Karla Henrichon, of Aspen, who grew up in the valley and regularly attends the glow. "Unfortunately we were extremely disappointed with what seemed like an afterthought on the planning committee for this year's event."

Elkan estimated that 12 balloons were glowing at one point. Some pilots expected to be there didn't make it up from Denver, Elkan said. A few balloons were set up by Base Village, some in the area where the Big Air jump is built during winter and three near the Village Express chairlift. Most of the balloons were sheltered from the wind, but the ones near the lift had some issues, Elkan said.

"The pilots told me that could be resolved with another tether," Elkan said. "A lot of people put so much blood, sweat and tears into this event, we really did not know how long that window was going to last. It ended up being a longer window, obviously, than we thought, but we went ahead and went early to make sure we had something to show the crowd."

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The new venue was also disappointing to Henrichon because it was difficult to get around.

"Hopefully this was a temporary change, though I still don't know how they thought the balloons would be placed on a slant and how they thought hiking up and down was a good idea," Henrichon said. "I know the Skittles gondola was working, but the line was long, so it seemed like hiking up would be faster, and yes, it was, but when we reached the top it was over."

For Scott Calliham, owner of Base Camp Bar & Grill and Slice, lines at the Skittles gondola were a sign that the mall and Base Village were both getting traffic.

"There was a lot of families and a lot of people up and down the Skittles lift," he said. "People were migrating back and forth, so I thought that part of it was a great opportunity for both locations."

The Wine Festival's relocation to Town Park didn't have an impact on Calliham's restaurants because it didn't send them much traffic when it was on the mall, he said. Mall businesses and restaurants that stayed open said they fared about the same or better than in the past.

The Rotary Club's goal in relocating the Wine Festival was to raise more money by selling more tickets. Fundraising Chairman Randy Woods estimated that 1,100 people attended the festival this year. The club raised more than $40,000 after expenses, which will benefit local and international nonprofits.

"They were really happy," Elkan said of the Rotary Club. He said comments from the Ferrari Club of America Rocky Mountain Region, which had some of its owners' cars on display during the Wine Festival, were also positive.

Rain also threatened the Ferrari display. The owners were nervous about parking their cars on the soccer field as intended because if it did rain, they would be stuck. Organizers decided to park the vehicles in the rodeo parking lot instead.

"What we learned is they should just be in the pavement, and what we'll do is we'll ask Rotary to lengthen the liquor license around the pavement instead of the grass," Elkan said.

Elkan said Snowmass Tourism will take direction from the Marketing, Special Events & Group Sales Board and the public as to what venue to hold the glow in next year. Construction of an event lawn at the base of Fanny Hill, still pending approval by the Town Council, could provide another potential location for any of the events.

"I would like to think that because of the lawn we could at least put a few more balloons down there," Elkan said.

The Wine Festival's location would be up to the Rotary Club.

"Next year will be the 39th year of the Balloon Festival," Elkan said. "In my opinion, that's not going anywhere. Let's give it one more shot. … What's really neat here is at least we've created a dialogue."

jbeathard@snowmasssun.com

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