Guest column: A pilot’s perspective from the Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival
I have been the balloonmeister — Aka pilot wrangler — since 2011, our second year of the Moffat County Balloon Festival.
We started with just five balloons in 2010. We have come a long, long way since that first event. This year brought a compliment of 24 balloon pilots and crew to the valley — 15 returning from previous years.
The spectator attendance has grown along with the number of balloons. The balloons are now floating with an audience each day. We try to hang out around the launch field so the spectators get a good show, but alas, we are held to the speed and direction of the wind so somedays it works, somedays it doesn’t.
This year was spectacular. We flew three days and had one glow. Four events in three days. Phenomenal.
Could the locals be any friendlier? I think not. The warmth and welcoming outreach of the community to the pilots and their chase crews is overwhelming.
The fabulous Friday flight with light and variable winds was followed by the Friday welcome pilot and crew dinner sponsored by the Downtown Business Association and Yampa Valley Brewing. Wow. They know how to do it up.
The pilots wanted for nothing. The pilots and crews had everything they could ask for — food, craft beers, good friends, meeting new people and music with just a little rain.
Saturday morning’s sunrise burned off the clouds from the night and provided clear skies and light and variable winds allowing the balloons to stick around the field. A stunning flying day to be sure.
Let me say one thing about the glow on Saturday night …. spectacular.
Thankfully the weather winds cooperated as winds pre-glow were 8 knots gusting to 11 knots. Glowing in those conditions is not doable.
Just 15 minutes pre-glow, the winds dropped to 5 knots, and balloons lit up the night. But just 15 minutes post-glow, the winds kicked up to 22 mph. Yikes. The pilots gave their all for the glow this year.
Sunday brought us 6 knot winds out of the east, and the balloons left the park. It was a chase day for sure. We all had easy retrievals with lots of local help. Could we ask for more? I think that answer is a resounding “no.”
A hearty thank you goes to the sponsors for their support each year. Without our sponsors, we are somewhat “deflated.”
All of us pilots enjoy sharing the love of our sport with sponsors and passengers alike. Showing off our love of aviation and our balloons to a first timer … priceless.
Lastly, this extremely fun event would not be possible without the perseverance and dedication of just a few individuals — 12 to be exact — who comprise the Moffat County Balloon Festival Committee. These individuals give their all to ensure the Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival is a success each year.
On behalf of the pilots, I would like to say, “Job well done,” and give a hearty thank you to the Craig community, as well as all of Moffat County, Randy and Cindy Looper, Melody Villard, Maggie and Tony St. John, Derek Cleverly, Rodney Beason, Molly Kleeman , Dave Summers, Jeff Smith and Debbie McLain.
Without your attendance and the perseverance of the aforementioned individuals, this event would not happen. A round of applause to you all. We’ll be back in 2023.
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