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“Mike, I think I need to sit down for a second.”
I folded my body into origami in an attempt to sit on the floor of the tiny wicker basket that was floating a couple thousand feet above the ground.
The high perspective on Snowmass, Colo., from pilot Mike’s hot-air balloon — the aptly named red-, blue- and yellow-patterned Primary Dream — was giving me a bit of vertigo. But even as I balled up in the basket to take a breather, I didn’t want to give up my view, so I peered out a small hole in the wicker.
Mike was one of 30 balloon pilots taking part in the 44th Annual Snowmass Balloon Festival, and I was his trusty sidekick for the morning. The festival features three days of balloons, pilot games, food vendors, kid-friendly activities and more, including a kickoff Balloon Night Glow.
The summertime views of a verdant Snowmass were certainly a highlight of my first-ever hot-air balloon ride. But helping Mike; his wife, Cindy; and balloon wrangler volunteers Greer, Bruce and Janelle disassemble and store Primary Dream was perhaps my favorite part of the experience. The delicate care with which Mike — who has been piloting his balloon for more than 40 years — stows Primary Dream reminded me fondly of my own routine when breaking down a campsite.
“I never fly unless it’s for fun,” Mike told me as we gently folded the envelope (the colorful fabric bag that holds the hot air), after I inquired whether he ran tours in his hometown of Albuquerque, N.M.
Although guests of the free festival cannot ride in a hot-air balloon, volunteers who help a pilot for the entire weekend usually get to ride on the Sunday of the event. (Pro tip: Local operator Above It All Balloon Company sometimes sell rides during the festival weekend.)
Once we had packed up the balloon, it was time to tailgate. Cindy set up a table and chairs, unloaded an enormous box of snacks, popped open a bottle of champagne and poured us all some bubbly in Primary Dream-monogrammed flutes. And, honestly, even better than the views and learning how to care for a hot-air balloon was breaking bread with my new crew to celebrate a successful flight.
The DetailsSnowmass Tourismwww.gosnowmass.com