Snowmass Balloon Festival sees success with social distanced set up
After the monthslong trend of cancellations and smaller activities due to COVID-19, Snowmass town officials expressed excitement and relief with pulling off the 45th annual Snowmass Balloon Festival — the village’s biggest event of the summer — this past weekend in a safe, socially distanced way.
From the drive-by night glow Friday evening to the two bluebird morning balloon launches Saturday and Sunday, Snowmass Tourism special events manager Julie Hardman said the adapted balloon festival went smoothly and was a lot of fun for all involved.
“It was so nice to do something different and new and see it succeed at all ends,” Hardman said. “People were so pumped and excited to be there. It was just a beautiful weekend.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s annual Snowmass hot air balloon spectacle didn’t have the same in-person festival atmosphere as in years past, as previously reported. Instead, it was hosted as a more distant event with drive-in, hiking and biking viewing options for the morning launches, and a night glow where people could drive around and see balloons glowing at different spots on the Snowmass Club golf course Friday evening.
And while officials had to remind people at times that the festival wasn’t taking place as usual, with no spectators allowed at the Snowmass Town Park softball field launch site and both social distancing and masks required, Hardman said there were no major compliance issues over the weekend and it was great to see so much community support.
She said about 100 cars reserved spots for Saturday’s drive-in morning launch, about 200 cars reserved spots Sunday, and that there were a lot of locals and visitors viewing the balloons from nearby trails, too.
Hardman also said that although the Friday morning launch did have to be canceled due to low cloud coverage and winds, the Friday night glow was the first successful glow portion of the festival the town has had in a few years, which she felt was a good trade-off.
Colleen Johnson, balloon meister of the festival, expressed similar thoughts, noting that she felt it was super successful to have the balloons glowing around the golf course area this year versus all together on the softball field, and hopes that glow setup can continue moving forward.
“It was so cool to have the balloons more spread out this year. I really liked that aspect of it,” Johnson said of the night glow Friday. “I also loved that spectators were able to view the (morning launch of) balloons from the road and watch from their cars.”
Both Johnson and Hardman said there were several successes with this year’s event that may become a part of the annual tradition as the festival continues post-COVID-19, like the night glow layout and drive-in option, so long as the other town officials and departments that helped make this year’s event possible agree to it.
There also were a lot of people who stayed in the village after the morning launches to take part in the other smaller activities held over the weekend, like Social Saturday and yoga, and to eat and shop at town businesses, which was a goal of festival organizers, Hardman said.
However, both women also look forward to allowing spectators back onto the softball field to interact with the pilots, see the balloons up close and go for rides, which they felt was a big missing piece of this year’s event.
“Socializing and interacting with the pilots is such an important part of the festival,” Hardman said. “We definitely want to bring that back when the time is right to do so.”
Regardless, Hardman and Johnson said it was exciting to see so many people out viewing the balloons over the weekend in a safe way.
“People were ready for some normalcy and I think everyone loved the fact that we were able to make something happen,” Hardman said of this year’s festival amid the pandemic. “We’re so thankful for the support and understanding from the community and were relieved to get through it safely.”
“I knew it would be big because people love watching the balloons and wanted to get out and do something,” she said. “We all love coming up to Snowmass and look forward to keeping the tradition going next year.”
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The Independence Pass Foundation has worked since the mid-1990s to stabilize the steep, eroding slopes along Highway 82 near the summit of the pass. Its latest investment is $100,000 to vegetate the Top Cut.