Balloon fest rises over Snowmass
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Look to the skies above Snowmass Village this weekend, when the 27th annual Snowmass Balloon Festival marks its return to the valley with a dazzling air show.
The festival – on hiatus for the last two years due to construction at its main launch site, the Snowmass Village Golf Course – will host up to 35 hot-air balloons and their pilots for three days of competition and exhibition. Entries from every corner of Colorado will join representatives of Illinois, Nebraska, New Mexico and South Dakota for the Brush Creek Valley event.
Two local ballooning companies also will be on hand at the festival to offer rides to spectators, said Bruce Wood, co-organizer and owner of Above It All Ballooning.
Though the festival usually takes place in June, golf course construction led Snowmass officials to postpone the event until early fall. Organizers are excited about a late-season festival, Wood reports. Front Range visitors, already in town to view the dazzling array of fall foliage, now have a bit of extra color to enjoy.
“Why not give them a good reason to come to Aspen-Snowmass and stay for a weekend instead of a day?” Wood said of the festival’s draw.
Another advantage of a fall festival, Wood notes, is that sunrise takes place over an hour later in September than it does in June. Since events typically take place at sunrise, a fall festival gives spectators extra time to get out to the launch site.
The festival kicks off at 7 a.m. Friday with the Downvalley Rat Race, a long-distance event that will take balloonists as far as Carbondale. The most impressive part of the event is the takeoff from the Cozy Point launch pad, Wood warns – once the balloons are in the air, they might be too high to admire.
Activities continue at 7 a.m. Saturday, when balloon pilots take part in the jousting event known as Dawn Quixote. A series of small helium balloons will be posted around the Snowmass Village Golf Course to serve as targets for ski pole-wielding pilots. The pilot who pops the most wins the event.
The Balloon Night Glow, one of the most popular events of the festival – after all, it’s the only event that doesn’t begin at dawn – will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday.
A barbecue will precede the event at 6 p.m. The Glow will coincide with the last Snowmass Village Rodeo of the season.
“We’ll have several balloons setting up right at sunset. We’ll be lighting them up like big Christmas lights,” Wood said.
The last air show of the weekend will begin at 7 a.m. Sunday as competitors in the Target Tubing event take to the skies. Balloon pilots will test their steering skills as they float above a pond on the Snowmass Village Golf Course and drop tennis balls on floating inner tube targets.
The festival will conclude at 9 a.m. Sunday with a farewell party and the distribution of awards.
Wood, who also serves as the festival forecaster, has checked his charts and predicts “beautiful weather” for the weekend event.
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