Mike Pence’s Aspen vacation grounds hot-air balloon operation; owners out $10,000
Mike Pence’s vacation to the Aspen area has disrupted one local business to the tune of $10,000.
Pam Wood, who with her husband, Bruce, owns Above It All Balloon Co. in Snowmass Village, said Friday the flight restrictions because of the vice president’s visit have grounded their company and cost them thousands of dollars.
“I understand the security aspect,” Pam Wood said, “but let the little wheels on the track make a living so the rest can roll.”
She said they had to break the news of the cancellations to clients who booked balloon-ride reservations for their holiday visits. Above It All Balloon Co., which has a fleet of six balloons varying in size, offers one flight each morning when the weather cooperates.
Wednesday marked the Pence family’s first morning in the area, but high winds at the time prevented the balloon service from operating, Wood said.
Flying conditions on the subsequent days, however, have been good and suitable for flying, she said.
“It’s been very disappointing,” she said. “This is our busiest week of the winter.”
Under the watch of the Secret Service, Pence and his wife, Karen, are guests at a private estate off Owl Creek Road outside Snowmass Village. They arrived Tuesday and are scheduled to leave Monday; the motorcade will go downvalley and return to the Eagle County Regional Airport.
Last week, the family living in the house next to where the Pences are staying hung a “Make America Gay Again” banner at the base of the shared driveway.
The temporary flight restrictions cover an area of 3 nautical miles over where the Pences are staying.
According to a Dec. 24-dated Notice to Airmen from the Federal Aviation Administration, aircraft — other than those for law enforcement, firefighting, ambulance missions and safety or emergency missions, as well as flights taking off from Sardy Field — are forbidden from flying over what is considered “national defense air space.”
In other words, the Woods’ balloon service can’t operate from its launching area at the Snowmass Recreation Center because of its proximity to the Pences.
It’s not the first time the service has been affected by visitors under strict security controls, Wood said. Michelle Obama and her daughters routinely visited the Aspen area during the Obama administration’s two-term run, meaning the Woods’ business would hear about airspace restrictions from the FAA.
The Obamas, however, typically stayed on West Buttermilk, not as close as the Pences are to the launching area.
“Every few years someone will come to town and we have to measure where they’re staying to see if we’re outside the range,” Wood said.
While the flight restrictions hurt the company’s bottom line, Wood said it also took a toll on her employees, who rely on the holiday income as well as passengers’ tips. She said they considered launching the balloons from another area outside of the flight-restricted zone, but “it was such short notice” that they didn’t have the time to see it through.
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With a response rate to the 2020 Census survey below 40%, Pitkin County’s population appears to have been undercounted by at least 850 people.