August 29, 2013 Updated: August 29, 2013 at 12:38 pm
A hot air balloon pilot who doesn't like heights?
"I don't like being on top of a building, or looking out a second- or third-story window," says Ken Tadolini. "I've been 16,000 feet high in a balloon, and it's a completely different feeling. There is no edge to fall off of. You're floating. You become the wind."
The 63-year-old Tadolini has been flying since he was certified in 1988 and has flown in the 37-year-old Colorado Balloon Classic every subsequent year. The future of the Classic, which typically draws over 200,000 people to Memorial Park and countless spectators from afar, had its future in doubt earlier this year. The city handed festival President Patsy Buchwald a $7,000 bill for city services in June. The figure was disputed, but the parties have since come to an agreement.
The event kicks off Friday, runs through Monday, and is the largest and longest continuously running hot air balloon fest in the state.
The Colorado Balloon Classic is "the first balloon event I participated in, it's a unique event to be involved with," Tadolini says. "Balloon events, in general, are, but the Colorado Balloon Classic is special to the people of the city. It's free, and we get to see old friends from all over the country and world."
The mass ascension
At 7 a.m. Saturday through Monday at Memorial Park, 83 balloons (13 more than in 2012) will take to the sky, dotting the early morning blue. As long as weather permits, of course. Said Tadolini, "We are fair weather fliers, so we only fly when the weather is predicted to be good." And if you want to see the pre-flight machinations, head to the field at 6 a.m. Concession stands in the park open at 5 a.m.
The splash and dash
It wouldn't be the Colorado Balloon Classic without the annual Splash and Dash, a friendly contest in which about 25 pilots will lift off from the park this year and rise above the trees, touching down into Prospect Lake. "You float along until you have a little water in the basket. Hopefully just a little," Tadolinisays, laughing. One of the challenges: Gauging the distance to the water's surface as the balloon is descending. To overcome that, Tadolini teaches people to keep their eyes on the shoreline of Prospect Lake.
The balloon glo
Perhaps the most impressive annual event is the Balloon Glo, which takes place at dusk Saturday and Sunday. "We inflate and stand them (the balloons) up; as it gets darker we turn the burners on, and it looks like a great big lightbulb," Tadolini says, adding that the balloons are tied down either to the ground or the chase vehicle of each balloon.
COLORADO BALLOON CLASSIC DETAILS
When: Friday through Monday
Where: Memorial Park, 1605 E. Pikes Peak Ave.
Something else: No smoking or pets allowed in park.