Seventy-seven balloons are on the docket at the 38th annual Colorado Balloon Classic.
About 200,000 to 250,000 people attend the free event every year, says president Patsy Buchwald. They come for the early morning ascension of balloons and for the evening Balloon Glo, where balloons stay grounded but lit up. The event runs Saturday through Monday in Memorial Park.
"It's so magical," Buchwald says. "Not every city and region have 77 balloons that are lifting up. They look like they're just dangling there, suspended there. Back East, and in some other countries, regulations don't allow people to walk out to where balloons are. We're blessed in this region that people can come up to the balloons and watch them be inflated and take photos in the balloons and talk to the pilot and crew."
- Will the balloons fly?
"People always say 'Oh, the balloons never fly,'" Buchwald says. "But there's only one time in the past 37 years that we were weathered out the whole weekend - 2003."
- What are the ideal weather conditions?
Winds need to be less than 10 mph. They use a flag system - green is go, yellow signifies balloons are on hold and red means they're grounded. The flags are on the announcer's stage. The best way to receive updates on the balloons is either in the park or Q102.7 KBIQ FM.
- And if balloons don't fly?
There are plenty of food and concessions and a kids zone with inflatables and human hamster balls. There's also the Balloon Glo on Saturday and Sunday nights.
- How long are the balloons in the air?
Average flight time is about an hour. Often, the balloons land in the Fountain area, but sometimes, if pilots catch the wind just right, they'll return to Memorial Park. Also, look for the "world famous splash and dash," Buchwald says. Pilots dip into Prospect Lake and then take off again, weather permitting.
This could be the final year of the much-loved event. Buchwald has cited city politics, an increasingly rigid special event procedures and a difficult city sponsorship application.
"The only way there will be another festival in Colorado Springs next year," she says, "is if somebody buys the Colorado Balloon Classic company and operates it, or a new organizer comes in.
"Let's make it a good one," she says of this year's Classic.
JEN MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270,