Hot Air Ballooning Over Snowmass

It just doesn't get much better than an early morning hot air balloon ride over some stunning scenery in Snowmass. During the summer of 2010 we were invited to my brother-in-law's wedding in Snowmass and the bride and groom treated friends and family to a hot air balloon ride. We met in the Snowmass Recreation Center's parking lot at 5:30 - much too early for me after enjoying some of Snowmass Village's fun nightlife!

After several cups of coffee, my eyes were finally open enough to watch and enjoy the preparation to get our two balloons airborne. Each balloon has a crew of 4 or 5 to help with the unfurling, the inflation, loading, and launching. And once we're in the air, the crew and pilot try to predict where the chase vehicle and crew should wait for us to land - which is dependent upon the heat, wind, and the skills of the pilot. The wind was very gentle, the temperature was very chilly, and the sky was a crystal clear blue - all favorable, so I went in search of our pilot to secretly assess his knowledge and skills. We had lots more to see and do in Snowmass plus the wedding so I didn't want to get stranded on the tall Colorado mountain peaks and miss all the fun.

It just doesn't get much better than an early morning hot air balloon ride over some stunning scenery in Snowmass. During the summer of 2010 we were invited to my brother-in-law's wedding in Snowmass and the bride and groom treated friends and family to a hot air balloon ride. We met in the Snowmass Recreation Center's parking lot at 5:30 - much too early for me after enjoying some of Snowmass Village's fun nightlife!

After several cups of coffee, my eyes were finally open enough to watch and enjoy the preparation to get our two balloons airborne. Each balloon has a crew of 4 or 5 to help with the unfurling, the inflation, loading, and launching. And once we're in the air, the crew and pilot try to predict where the chase vehicle and crew should wait for us to land - which is dependent upon the heat, wind, and the skills of the pilot. The wind was very gentle, the temperature was very chilly, and the sky was a crystal clear blue - all favorable, so I went in search of our pilot to secretly assess his knowledge and skills. We had lots more to see and do in Snowmass plus the wedding so I didn't want to get stranded on the tall Colorado mountain peaks and miss all the fun.

I found him and studied his every move as he helped in the setup of his balloon- he looked awake,confident, and intelligent, had shaved, and didn't exhibit any of the late night blues that I was showing. Turns out that the 7 people in our balloon basket were flying with Bruce Wood who is the owner of Above It All Balloon Company. He passed my thorough analysis with flying colors, although I would have preferred that he was wearing several ribbons/badges/stickers that attested to successful flights and awards for successful flights or training. Next I circled the balloon looking for any holes, aging, or signs of rotting - passed with flying colors! The bucket was next - the bottom looked solid, the sides were woven tightly together, and it looked like there was ample propane on board! I'm ready to go! The balloons we were flying in were huge at over 200 feet tall and each held over 250,000 cubic feet of hot air which was needed to lift the wicker basket loaded with 5 bottles of propane and up to 15 passengers and our pilot.

Once the balloons are unloaded and stretched half the length of a football field, it is attached to the basket, and two giant fans start the inflation process which usually takes 20 minutes or so. Then the balloon's propane burners are fired up to heat the air to give the balloon it's lift. Now comes the tricky part - keeping the balloon filled with enough hot air to keep it afloat but not enough to take off before the passengers were loaded aboard. With our crew holding the basket to the ground, the pilot focused on keeping it full of hot air, while the 7 of us jumped aboard.

Getting the ballon and basket readyThe balloon basketheating the balloon to give it liftAbout ready for lift off

The next challenge became - can Bruce get us out of the parking lot and over the tall trees surrounding our exit and waiting to catch a big hot air balloon! As we held our breath, we watched the ground fall below us and we cleared the trees by a One if off and flying, the other is about ready for lift offgood 5 inches. Wow, that was impressive - this guy is a pretty good pilot and seems to know what he's doing. Turns out he has been ballooning for over 20 years and has competed in several balloon festivals.

And for the next hour we drifted with the gentle wind high above Snowmass. What a fantastic and fun adventure in the clean, clear, and crisp early morning air. The scenery is stunning - mountain peaks of several different colors and all shapes and sizes (up to 14,000'); wildlife meandering through the trees; crystal clear lakes and rivers; beaver dams and marshes; and beautiful huge homes and ranches. It was amazing to watch Bruce read and manage and manipulate the gentle winds as he flew up and down small mountain ranges and rolling hills and seemed to take the balloon where he wanted to go. His knowledge of the typical wind patterns, thermals, and currents allowing him to come close to predicting where we would set down an hour after take off.

Stunning sceneryOur fellow balloonersSnowmass Ski Area

Bruce was a real pleasure to fly with. He has a great sense of humor, excellent knowledge of the area, and some good stories. As we flew over some beautiful scenery he pointed out elk and deer, gave us some information on the homes and ranches of the rich and famous that we flew over, parted with some local gossip, and pointed out some stunning and breathtaking country.

All too soon we were approaching the end of our ride, which just happened to be within 300 yards from the dirt road and green pasture where the chase crew were waiting and from where Bruce projected that we would land. After a short lecture on how to prepare for a crash landing -"crouch low in the basket, brace yourself, hold on, and breathe!" - we all took deep breaths. We missed our first landing zone (we would have landed too close to the tree line and brush) and flew another 100 yards when Bruce dropped a line from 150' above the ground to our crew who pulled us away from the trees and creek to another backup landing zone in a local ranchers pasture for a perfect "10" landing! What a fun flight.

Another safe landing in a beautiful pastureBruce serving us champagne and breakfastAs we watched the crew work hard to deflate the balloon, roll it up, and wench it and the basket back into the chase vehicle, Bruce set up a table with fruit and cheese, bagels and sweet rolls, and more - all of which were quickly devoured. But when he popped the first bottle of champagne at 8:30 in the morning and started making Mimosas, we were smiling with our hands out. As we ate and drank, he told us the history of why champagne is consumed at the end of each successful flight. His version was much longer and funnier and very well told, but to net it out, King Louie XVI sent a couple bottles of champagne up in the first manned balloon flight in 1783 which was a reward to be enjoyed by the brave pilots should they land successfully - which they did. And now most balloon rides conclude with a bottle or two of champagne to celebrate the flight. A perfect end to a fantastic flight.

If you're heading to Snowmass or Aspen, then you should call Bruce (888-927-9606) and book a flight with Above It All Balloon Company - it could be the highlight of your trip.

To learn more about this fun vacation in Snowmass, check these pages:

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