In the Air: Up, up and away | AspenTimes.com

In the Air: Up, up and away

Charles Agar

What happens when you get a bunch of journalists, photographers and other media folks together early in the morning out in the middle of a field? The hot air rises and lifts them right off the ground.And so it was that some 20 of us took to the skies in hot air balloons Thursday to kick off the 31st annual Snowmass Village Balloon Festival.Media representatives were armed with red beanbags with long streamers. The object of the game was to land a signed beanbag as close as possible to a big yellow X in a field. The “competition” was more like a reason for a bunch of balloonists to get together and fly (OK, and eat and drink, all day). And the exhilaration of just being in a balloon overshadowed any rivalry.There were four in our basket: me, Elizabeth, a reporter from the Snowmass Sun and a photographer from Aspen. We all put our lives in the hands of Mark Purdy, a balloon pilot from Eaton.The burn of the propane jet was welcome in the early morning chill, and liftoff was surreal, like an elevator going up, only with a bit more “sideways” than usual.We were one of the first to take off and rise over the speckled palette of balloon silk. Purdy gave a wry smile and said he’d had the good luck – and he admits there’s a lot of luck to it – to win the beanbag toss last year.Our target was a patch of ground adjacent to the rodeo grounds at the entrance to the village.We caught a first puff of air just right, and it blew us toward our target.”Wait … wait … wait,” Purdy said. He lowered the balloon a bit, and we caught a different gust that started taking us off course. I threw our beanbags just as we started to veer away from the target. Then we watched as the first- and second-place winners flew right over the X and nailed it.No one else came close, though, and my third-place throw sent me back to the office with a bag of goodies.We followed recirculating currents in two big Ferris wheel loops high over the valley and skimming along the ground.The views of Snowmass and the mountains beyond were spectacular. Dots of aspen groves turning yellow, craggy peaks peeking up over the horizon at the organized grid of overdevelopment below.And Mark was the only pilot to go “box to box” and land next to his trailer. Pretty slick.The event ended with a welcome ritual, a morning prayer and champagne dousing for first-time balloonatics.

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