Snowmass Balloon Festival: Champagne, propane and views for days |

Snowmass Balloon Festival: Champagne, propane and views for days

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times



What: Snowmass Balloon Festival

Sunday: Spectating 7-10 a.m. at Snowmass Town Park

Admission: Free and open to the public

For more information, visit

In Stephen Blucher’s near five decades of flight, the hot air balloon pilot has officiated weddings, watched proposals go awry and experienced his share of sketchier moments — striking a power cable or nearly falling out of the basket.

“Flying for 48 years, you’ve seen a lot of stuff,” Blucher, in town from Colorado Springs for the 43rd annual Snowmass Balloon Festival, said Friday. “I pretty much have seen it all.”

A tribe of vivid colors will pepper Snowmass’ bright blue sky again this morning as part of the picture-perfect event.

Drawing thousands of visitors to the area annually, the Snowmass balloon fest is one of the highest-altitude balloon events in the country.

Blucher’s “Morning Glory Too,” painted with stripes of purple and various shades of blue, was one of 30 hot air balloons to soar over the village this weekend as part of the time-honored festival.

The pilots typically travel with a crew of volunteers who are essential in helping transform a bundle of 90,000 or more cubic feet of rip-stop nylon and a wicker basket into an object that’s safe to fly.

Altogether, Morning Glory Too weighs nearly 640 pounds — 330 for the envelope (the term for the actual balloon) and 304 for the basket — and therefore requires several hands on-deck.

Crews often consist of spouses, family members, friends, fellow balloon enthusiasts and locals or visitors who want in on the action.

In fact, a number of crewmembers voluntarily travel with pilots across the country from one festival to the next, with no guarantee of ever stepping foot inside the basket.

They simply love the camaraderie and being involved in any capacity.

“It is a family sport,” Blucher’s wife, Jeanie, said.

The two met at a hot air ballooning event 25 years ago, when Jeanie first was introduced to “all of this madness.”

Still, now a quarter century later, “it never gets old,” Jeanie said while admiring the sky.

Beverly Voelker, also of Colorado Springs, is one of those loyal volunteers. Not only has Voelker been part of the Blucher’s crew for nine years, but she’s also involved her family members — including her parents, children, nieces and nephews — all of whom have experienced a taste of flight.

Voelker’s mother and father were at the Snowmass festival this weekend.

“You guys became my family and then you accepted my family,” Voelker said to the Bluchers, who call her parents “mother and father.”

Another consistent among the ballooning community — it’s a tight-knit one, after all — is the post-flight champagne toast. According to Blucher, this ritual dates back to the first-ever successful flight in the late 1700s.

“Sometimes I literally spend more money on champagne than propane,” he said. “Champagne and propane — (it’s) the breakfast of balloonists.”

Throughout his 48-year tenure piloting private, commercial and festival gigs, Blucher estimated he has been airborne about 2,500 times.

What’s interesting about leading commercial flights, he said, is “having no idea” who will board the balloon.

“Sometimes when I have people coming to me, I look very closely at them,” Blucher said, again recalling some of his less pleasant memories on the job. “You wonder sometimes.”

While Blucher’s favorite part about flying is the sense of freedom, for Voelker, it’s the lack of control.

“Once you’ve launched, you’re in God’s hands,” Voelker said. “I am in control of everything else in my life, and I have to do this and I have to do that. But in this (sport), you have to just wing it.”