Up, Up and Away

Balloons take flight at Chatfield State Park. Photo: Tom Cooper

Balloons take flight at Chatfield State Park. Photo: Tom Cooper

Sky becomes a canvas at hot air balloon festivals 

By Natasha Lovato

The sun rises and the sky fills with a sonata of color. Flames ignite within baskets as pilots take off in a cacophony of hot air balloons. Across Colorado, throughout the year, hot air balloon festivals are organized featuring food, drinks, games, music, balloon glows and early morning ascents.

Whether you are a spectator at a festival or you choose to fly, you won’t want to miss the experience when hot air balloons fill the morning skies.

Ballooning highlights the town of Windsor’s annual Picture The Sky Balloon Rally at the Harvest Fest. Photo: Courtesy No Worries!! Ballooning

Ballooning highlights the town of Windsor’s annual Picture The Sky Balloon Rally at the Harvest Fest. Photo: Courtesy No Worries!! Ballooning

Balloon pilot Jeff Ashworth made his way to the Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off for a high-flying weekend last fall. Between altitude and weather, many factors go into successfully floating through the sky. Ashworth said the record altitude of a hot air balloon is more than 69,000 feet, although 2,000 to 5,000 feet is the usual height for proper steerage. The weather must be nearly perfect for the balloons to take off, with wind speeds no more than 10 miles per hour.

“The morning weather report is the ultimate deciding factor for a safe ride,” he said.

Crowds gather to admire the hot air balloons near Durango in the Animas Valley. Photo: Courtesy Animas Valley Balloon Rally

Crowds gather to admire the hot air balloons near Durango in the Animas Valley. Photo: Courtesy Animas Valley Balloon Rally

With technology constantly updating, the balloon rides today are not like those from the fabled movie “Around the World in 80 Days.” Hot air ballooning is a sport comprised of incredible technique and accuracy. Although the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest gathering, pilots travel from all over the world to celebrate the beauty of the sport in colorful Colorado.

“I have been a pilot since the early ’70s,” Needa Courtney said. “We go to festivals in Colorado all the time even though we’re from Albuquerque. It’s a great family sport. I raised my kids ballooning and now my kid’s kids are learning.”

From Pagosa Springs to Telluride to Longmont, there is always a balloon festival around the corner. Visit coloradoballoonclub.net for a full list of festivals in Colorado and its surrounding areas, and check out colorado.com/colorado-balloon-ride-companies to take the adventure to the next level by riding in one.

Native Natasha Lovato celebrates the Colorado lifestyle through hiking, biking or playing bingo while enjoying a sour ale or two.

A balloon ascends at the Fredrick in Flight Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival. Photo: Courtesy Fredrick in Flight

A balloon ascends at the Fredrick in Flight Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival. Photo: Courtesy Fredrick in Flight