Flying Colors 4

LIFT-UP Celebrates 35 Years with High Hopes and Hot Air Balloons

Pam and Bruce Wood have been flying hot air balloons professionally in the Roaring Fork Valley since 1996. Their flying company, Above It All, brings immense joy to the Woods; so much so that they purchased the company outright when their business partner and original owner, Bill Hodgden, decided to retire in 2002.

Hot air ballooning is an adventure defined by the landscapes across which they drift and float. As such, the Woods have traveled the U.S. to experience flight and festivals with people from around the country. Their wild blue wanderlust gives rise to lasting friendships with other balloon pilots and aficionados. Above It All offers hot air balloon rides throughout the spectacular Elk Mountain Range, launching from Snowmass. The couple had long been seeking a way to bring the spectacle of hot air ballooning to the masses, somewhere in the mid-valley area.

Considering the inspiring festivals they’d like to model, Pam says, “We admired the Lake Havasu Balloon Festival and how they offered a great community event while raising funds for many nonprofits in their city.”

Historically, the hot air balloon was the first manned vessel to achieve flight. And while today these are the simplest vessel—a fabric sack, a basket and a burner—flight is still an expensive venture. The Woods needed a partner to help fund and organize an event.

A few years ago, LIFT-UP, the regional nonprofit providing year-round food and assistance to struggling locals, reached out to Above It All. LIFT-UP sought to increase awareness of its services with a balloon banner, and both entities quickly discovered fulfillment in working together.

They then decided to embark on a mutual venture: LIFT UP’s 35th anniversary Lift Off 4 LIFT-UP Balloon Festival at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel, taking place this month on June 23, 24 and 25.

LIFT-UP Executive Director Kimberly Loving says, “It was definitely meant to be and we are so looking forward to working with them for many years to come. We have a new logo to celebrate our 35th anniversary. We love the idea of having a fundraiser that can be symbolic of ‘lifting up,’ much like the similar fundraiser Can for a Tram has done for years, with the generous support of Steve and Jeanne Beckley of Glenwood Springs Adventure Park. In addition, we wanted to have a community-wide, mid-valley, family-centric event. It is a blend of nature, beauty, and fun.”

Planning Lift Off 4 LIFT-UP was two years in the making. “We invited a few friends to the valley to fly for a fun weekend,” says Pam Wood. “While we had flown the valley before, we felt it might be good to have a test run in 2016 with a few pilots to help prepare us for 2017.” Many of the balloonists arriving for the event are personal friends of the Woods, she says, adding that “the pilots who are attending our event love flying and they love sharing this spectacular hobby with anyone who is interested.”

The synergy between the community, Above It All, and LIFT-UP has been paramount in creating this year’s fundraiser balloon festival.

“This is our inaugural hot air balloon event and the community has already been so supportive,” says LIFT-UP director Loving. “We’re very blessed to have so many generous supporters with cash and in-kind donations. We’re already looking at next year’s event and the many new elements that we’ll be able to include, such as arts and crafts, school involvement, arts programs, as well as additional nonprofits and vendors. We want the attendees to come and experience the wonder of a balloon festival while creating awareness for the services of LIFT-UP for those in need. Although the recession has dissipated, the needs of our services and the numbers of our clients have not decreased.”

Fifteen balloons will be on display at Crown Mountain Park during the festival. Wind and weather pending, bright ‘n early morning ascensions are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday from 6:30-7 a.m. The rising sunlight makes for a beautiful experience, but dress warmly and don’t forget your camera. Tethered ascensions are $25 per adult, with kiddos 10 and under floating for $15. Basalt Lions Club will provide a pancake breakfast both weekend mornings from 6-9 a.m., alongside traditional kids’ activities with activity tickets available for purchase—think “fundraising!” Or bring your own mat on Saturday and join Becky Anderson of Aspen Shakti for Honey Flow Yoga at 7:30 a.m.

Balloon pilots will fire up the night with a Saturday evening illumination at 8:30 p.m. Live music by Poser is the perfect excuse for blanket-time and bare feet. Picnic food is absolutely welcome but glass containers should be left at home. The Boy Scouts and food trucks will keep the masses happy with tasty eats, and drinks of all varieties will be available for purchase from vendors. Event organizers will strictly prohibit smoking, fireworks, or open flames of any kind due to the delicacy of the hot air balloons and the flammable nature of their go-juice.

There are several ways to help LIFT-UP’s important cause at the festival, says Loving. “We are encouraging those who attend to bring nonperishable foods, as the need for food and support is year-round; in turn, those who do will get one dollar off the $10 admission ticket (kids 10 and under, free). We will also be looking for volunteers to help run the actual event.” To volunteer, contact LiftOff4LiftUp@gmail.com.

As they partner with LIFT-UP for this event, the Woods of Above It All have made a dream come true, bringing hot air balloon whimsy to the mid-valley—and in so doing, we, the valley, can lift up our disadvantaged friends and neighbors, allowing them to focus on their dreams, too.