RIDGWAY – The pristine skies over Ridgway will frame a colorful display of hot air balloons this weekend while classic cars fill the streets during the sixth annual Ridgway Balloon Festival, better known as Balloons ’n’ Varooms, May 8-10. This event brings together recreational and professional balloon pilots from around the region with classic car owners for a truly unique experience.
The event fires up at 6 a.m. on Friday morning with a mass hot air balloon launch at the Remax field adjacent to Highway 550 in Ridgway.
Ridgway’s Hartwell Park is the place to be on Friday afternoon with the “Show and Glow” classic car show, Ouray Elks Lodge benefit barbecue and live entertainment featuring Paonia’s Strolling Scones.
Classic cars in the People’s Choice show will be displayed in diagonal fashion just off the sidewalk in the park with the barbecue and balloons nearby. This is the first time the cars and the balloons will all be in one place, making for an excellent photographic opportunity, said festival organizer Gary Woods.
“It will be a really nice presentation,” Woods said in an interview on Monday as he warily eyed a snow flurry outside. Past festivals have been hampered by inclement weather. “It can snow all it wants now,” he said. “Get it out now.” (The weekend weather forecast, as of Wednesday morning, called for mostly sunny weather.)
“We really do have some nice cars that I will be proud to have on display,” he continued. In the past week Woods said he has received an influx of entries for the car show and he now has approximately 30 cars from around the West coming to the festival.
It will be a wide spectrum of styles, makes and models on display this year, from a 1937 Ford Phantom to a 2009 Cadillac XLR to a 1958 classic fire truck. It will be up to the people to decide the best-in-show on Friday evening.
In addition to the car show, the Ouray Elks will be serving up their famous barbecue, and the Strolling Scones and saxophonist John White will be playing the sounds of the 60s.
“They are just dynamite,” Woods said. “They will be something fresh for the town. Their music is inspired by the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. They are very modern yet nostalgic and somehow they pull it off. With John White, they will be even more dynamic.”
While enjoying the evening’s festivities of food and music, don’t forget about the prizes. Raffle tickets will be sold throughout the evening for $1 each, or take advantage of the sweet deal of 10 tickets for $5. Prizes include a balloon flight, a stay at the Chipeta Sun Lodge, hand-blown glass art, and a custom dinner at Siam to name a few.
The grand finale on Friday will occur at sundown with the Glow in the Park – a dramatic balloon glow choreographed to music.
“This will be really enjoyable to see and listen to,” Woods said. “I really, really hope the weather will cooperate.”
In addition to the chance to win the People’s Choice Award on Friday, car owners are invited to show their cars at the participants’ judged show on Saturday for a chance to win one of several awards created by John Billings, maker of the prestigious Grammy.
Saturday’s events will begin at 6 a.m. at the Remax field with a mass balloon launch at 6:45 a.m. Make sure to grab an eye-opening cup of fresh coffee to support Mrs. Brandy’s Early Learning Center. Weather permitting, from 8:30-10 a.m. there will be tethered balloon rides for those interested and a tailgate brunch for a nominal fee.
“Come down and be a part of it,” said Woods. “The nice thing about the balloon rally is that it is 100 percent open to the public. There are no restricted areas. Get up close and personal with the balloons. Anybody that has ever thought about riding in a balloon, if they come out for a while and help out, it is not unlikely that they won’t walk away without getting a ride.”
Saturday’s event will end at 1 p.m. with more prizes and car show awards from a special, local guest.
The festival will close on Sunday with yet another mass balloon launch at 6 a.m.
Woods said he has been working diligently on the festival since last November and wants to thank the sponsors and volunteers who have made the festival happen – especially Jerry Classi of the Ridgway Conoco, who Woods called the “ultimate supporter of the festival.”
For Woods, the balloon festival is an opportunity to show off the beauty of the region.
“This is our economic stimulus to the town,” Wood said. “This will bring business to the area at a slow time of year. We bail out everybody from their cabin fever doldrums.” He said when his balloon friends come to Ridgway “they are awestruck by the scenery of this place and that is why they always come back.”