Telluride’s 26th Annual Balloon Festival will paint the skies – hopefully – this weekend when 15 pilots and their aircrafts take to the air.
Longtime festival organizer Marilyn Branch, who is directing the festival for her 17th year, says the Telluride Balloon Festival is special because it is the first festival of the spring/summer season that brings visitors outside.
Although bad weather has kept balloons from flying for the past two years, Branch doesn't seem worried about this weekend's prospects.
“More often than not, we get to fly,” she says. “It's absolutely magnificent when it does happen.”
Ideally, the balloons will take off early Saturday morning, fly over the town, and land on the Valley Floor, but winds moving in the wrong direction or thunderstorms could keep them earthbound.
Should that happen, the balloons will be tied to the ground and allowed to rise about 20 feet before descending again – or they just won't fly.
“We do a tethered ride, or we go to breakfast,” Branch says.
She added that this year's 15 pilots, who are mostly from the states in the Four Corners area, look forward to putting on a good show.
The popular balloon glow on Main Street is set for Saturday evening, when the street will be closed to vehicular traffic.
This year marks the second time that Balloon Festival shares a weekend with the Telluride Jazz Celebration. Though last year’s collaboration was successful, it was a rough year for balloonists, whose balloons never did get up in the air. So this year, if the balloons do indeed become airborne, will mark the first successful joining of the two festivals, and allow organizers and attendees alike to determine that they do indeed work well together. Given the various tents and the crowds, there are some possibilities for collision, but Branch says that it has been a good marriage so far.
“They bring the numbers,” she says of Jazz, and “I bring the color. It's the most colorful event we have all year.”
That is probably why the Telluride Balloon Festival is also a magnet for amateur and professional photographers. This year, Colorado Springs-based photographer Paul deBerjeois is holding a workshop Saturday on how to take the best pictures of hot-air balloons, even with a cell-phone.
Since the Balloon Festival is a free event, Branch says the weakened economy has not had a notable effect on the weekend. The festival's funding, which comes from the Commission for Community Assistance, Arts and Special Events, has been cut only slightly since it's such a small festival; Branch says larger events' funding has been more significantly impacted.
Telluride Intermediate School students will also get a treat this week when two pilots bring their aircrafts to the school on Friday afternoon and teach students about the specifics of ballooning.
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