Up, up and away in Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

Up, up and away in Snowmass

Joel Stonington
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

SNOWMASS VILLAGE ” Up in a hot air balloon over Snowmass Village the aspen trees, lakes and houses seem to float below, rather than the other way around. The slightest breeze catches the balloon as the pilot tries to catch the right drift by manning the controls.

Ballooning is a slower, calmer type of flying. It’s about enjoying the views and not getting scared by the gaps in the wicker basket. It’s a pleasing flight at the speed of wind, while the rapid movement of cars and people below are in a different world.

The two worlds connect, to a certain degree, this weekend at the 32nd annual Snowmass Balloon Festival. Perhaps the most spectator-friendly event is at 6 p.m. Saturday night, when there is a free barbecue and concert. Balloons also will light up the fields near the Snowmass rodeo grounds.

In past years, balloons have been known to land in yards, prompting pilots to break out the customary champagne to soothe the nerves of landowners.

During the long-distance race, balloons will have two hours to see how far they can get down Highway 82 from Snowmass Village.

Pilot Don Dougherty, who is flying “Suzie Q” and has attended the festival for five years, said the balloons likely will cruise down Brush Creek at low altitude to get to the highway, then go up to high altitudes to gain distance on the way downvalley.

“When I was 8-years-old, our next door neighbors were into it,” Dougherty said. “I immediately fell in love with it. I don’t know if it was the colors or the shapes or being up in the air.”

These days, Dougherty can be found wherever there is a balloon festival, much like the more than 30 balloonists who showed up for the weekend to color up the sky, catch the barbecue on Saturday, or just see the view of the balloons floating lazily overhead.